Cape Brandy Cellar Route. Around Cape Winelands ľ 245km

Cape Brandy Cellar Route.

Brandy Route

In 1997, 325 years after the first brandy was distilled in South Africa, the South African Brandy Foundation launched the Brandy Route, the first of its kind in South Africa. Stretching from Stellenbosch through Paarl and Wellington to Worcester, it gives visitors an opportunity to learn about the many sides of the brandy industry, such as the different varieties of brandies and the various production methods.

South Africa is the fifth largest producer of brandy in the world, and brandy represents 65 per cent of all South African spirits. Average annual production amounts to over 57 million litres, and there are about 50 brandy trademarks in the country. There are currently nine cellars on the Brandy Route, seven of which are described in this South African holiday tour.

Stellenbosch

...with its extensive vineyards, is a natural starting point on the Brandy Route.

Stellenbosch, with its oak-lined streets, water furrows and beautifully preserved historic buildings, is the centre of the country's best-known wine-producing area and an important university town. South Africa's second-oldest town, Stellenbosch was founded in 1679 and named after the Dutch governor, Simon van der Stel. In addition to its numerous splendid Cape Dutch buildings, the town also has fine examples of Cape Georgian and Victorian houses.

The cultural heritage of Stellenbosch can only be truly appreciated by taking a stroll down Dorp Street, which has one of the longest rows of historic buildings in the country. Well worth a visit on your South African holiday is the Stellenbosch Village Museum, comprising four buildings from different periods of the town's history. Art-lovers should not miss Oom Samie seá Winkel and the Rembrandt van Rijn Art Museum in the historic Libertas Parva homestead. The nearby cellar is now known as the Stellenryk Wine Museum.

Van Ryn Cellars

The Van Ryn Brandy Cellar at Vlottenburg is the oldest working brandy cellar in the country, and was the first to open its doors to visitors. The cellar is named after a Dutch immigrant, Jan van Ryn, who arrived at the Cape in 1845 and established the cellar. On a guided tour, visitors will find out all about the production of brandy. The tour includes a visit to the distillation pot stills, maturation cellars and the cooperage - one of only two working cooperages on the Brandy Route. Here, visitors can see how the maturation barrels are made from French oak in the traditional manner.

Uitkyk

...on the slopes of the Simonsberg, has as its most outstanding feature the magnificent neoclassical manor house attributed to the French architect, Louis-Michel Thibault. Completed in 1788, its urban design in a country setting makes it unique among the historic buildings of Stellenbosch. Uitkyk's history goes back to 1712, when the farm was granted to Jan Oberholzer, but its winemaking potential was only realised in the 1930s.

The estate produces two white wines (chardonnay and sauvignon blanc) and two reds - the full-bodied flagship wine, Carlonet (cabernet sauvignon) and a cabernet sauvignon and shiraz blend. All Uitkyk wines are marketed by the Bergkelder. The estate recently introduced a fine 10-year-old estate brandy to the market.

Backsberg

Set on theá northeastern slopes of the Simonsberg, Backsberg was originally known as Babylonstoren. Since 1916, it has been in the hands of the Back family, after whom the farm was renamed. Renowned for its excellent wines, the Backsberg range includes seven white, a rosÚ and seven red wines. Owner Michael Back also produces an estate brandy - named after his father, Sydney - that is similar to the cognacs of France, but with its own distinctive character.

Wine from the estate's chenin blanc grapes is distilled in a computer-controlled pot still imported from Cognac in 1991. It is then matured for three years in French Limousin oak barrels before it is released and sold under the Sydney Back Estate Brandy label.

Paarl

When the Dutch fiskaal (revenue collector), Abraham Gabbema, and his party first saw the granite domes that dominate the Berg River valley glistening like gems in the rising sun in October 1657, he named them the 'Paarl' and the 'Diamant' (Pearl and Diamond). In 1687, Governor Simon van der Stel awarded the first farms in the valley, and in the following year several Huguenots settled here.

Paarl Mountain lies within the Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve, accessible along the 11-km-long Jan Phillips Mountain Drive. The mountain originated some 550 million years ago when granite intruded into the rocks of the Malmesbury Group. Over millions of years the softer, overlying rock was eroded, exposing the more resistant granite outcrops. The Afrikaans language had its formal origins in Paarl in 1875, with the foundation of the Society of True Afrikaaners.

The Afrikaans Language Monument on the southern slopes of Paarl Mountain was unveiled in 1975 to commemorate the birth and development of the Afrikaans language in Paarl a century earlier. To appreciate Paarl's wealth of historic buildings on your South African holiday, take a walk down Main Road. Starting at the Strooidak Kerk (Thatched Roof Church), dating back to 1805, the walk takes visitors past Zeederberg Square (surrounded by several historic buildings) to the Afrikaans Language Museum. The only language museum in the world, it focuses on the history of Afrikaans.

The walk ends at the Oude Pastorie Museum, built as a parsonage in 1786. The graceful U-shaped manor house, with its pedimented gable, contains a fine collection of antique Cape furniture, silverware and copper.

Laborie

Set among vineyards on the lower slopes of Paarl Mountain, historic Laborie estate dates back to 1691. The focal point of the estate is the H-shaped manor house 3, which was built in the late 1700s. The estate was bought by the KWV in 1972, and has since been redeveloped into one of the country's leading wine estates. Its first wines were introduced to the public in 1982, and today its celebrated range includes two white, one blanc de noir, four red and one fortified wine, as well as a sparkling wine made in the tradition of the Champagne region of France.

Laborie launched its first brandy, the Laborie Estate Alembic Brandy, in late 1997. It is made from sauvignon blanc grapes and double-distilled in an 18th-century copper pot still. Visitors can explore the lower slopes of Paarl Mountain by following a one-hour walking trail through the vineyards. The Laborie Restaurant is well known for its excellent traditional dishes.

Paarl Rock Brandy Cellar

Overlooked by the natural landmark for which it is named, this cellar dates back to 1856, when it was established by the De Villiers brothers. This is the only cellar in South Africa where brandy is still made by hand according to the De Villiers family tradition. The cellar uses wines mainly from the Paarl region, and its brandies undergo a double distillation process in traditional Woudberg copper pot stills before maturation in imported French oak vats. After maturation, the brandy is blended in accordance with the brothers' original recipe.

Wellington

...lies in a picturesque valley originally known as Limiet Valley, regarded by the early Dutch settlers as the boundary or limit of the settlement at the Cape. The town was once famous for its wagon-making industry and became known as Wagenmakersvallei (wagon makers' valley) before it was renamed Wellington in 1840. It is the centre of the country's dried fruit industry and one of the most important centres for growing grafted vines. The twelve cellars on the Wellington Wine Route include Bovlei, Wamakersvallei, Wellington, Jacaranda, Welvanpas, Cape Wine Cellars and Hildenbrand Wine and Olive Estate, and produce a wide variety of white and red wines. Wellington is also well known for its educational institutions, among them Huguenot College and Boland College. Noteworthy buildings include the Dutch Reformed Church (1840), and the various buildings of the old Huguenot Seminary. Just north of the town is a blockhouse, built to guard the railway bridge over the Kromme River, a tributary of the Breede, against Boer guerrilla attacks during the South African War.

Bain's Kloof

...is named after master road builder, Andrew Geddes Bain, who began building the pass in 1849 with convict labour and completed it four years later. The vantage point just below the summit affords motorists spectacular views of the Berg River valley; a little further on, just south of Bain's Kloof village, lie the graves of 11 convicts who died during the construction of the pass. From here the scenic pass follows the winding course of the valley carved by the Wit River between the Limietberg and the Slanghoek mountains. Large sections of the road had to be blasted out of solid rock; one large outcrop, Dacres Pulpit, was left hanging over the road. In some places the road had to be supported by 12-m-high dry-stone retaining walls.

Worcester

Situated amid rugged mountain scenery on the banks of the Breede River, Worcester is the 'Capital of the Breede River Valley'. About 25 per cent of the area under vineyards in the country lies in the Worcester region, making it one of South Africa's most important wine-producing areas. It is especially noted for its dry and semi-sweet white wines, dessert wines and brandy. The Kleinplasie Open-Air Museum depicts the lifestyles of the early Cape pioneer farmers. The museum comprises 26 buildings and structures representative of agricultural industries in the Western Cape between 1690 and 1900. Daily demonstrations of traditional home industries and activities (witblits distilling, candle making and tobacco rolling) are given. The town of Worcester is also a well-known education centre, and the Nuwe Hoop Centre for the Hearing Impaired, the Institute for the Blind and the Institute for the Deaf are located here.

KWV Brandy Cellar

This is the largest brandy distillery of its kind in the world under one roof. The cellar 1 accommodates 120 copper Woudberg pot stills for the distillation of the famed KWV range of brandies, such as KWV Ten and Twenty Year Old. In addition to producing its own range of brandies, the KWV supplies domestic wholesalers with over 50 per cent of the brandies sold on the local market.

The Worcester cellar is one of only two cellars on the Brandy Route where visitors on their South African holiday can watch coopers making barrels (the other being the Van Ryn cellar). The tour includes an audiovisual presentation and tours of the distillation room and maturation cellars, and ends with a brandy tasting.

Olof Bergh Solera Brandy Cellar

Situated in the fertile Breede River Valley near Rawsonville, the Olof Bergh Cellar uses 22 Woudberg copper pot stills, similar to those used in the Cognac region of France, for the distillation of high-quality colombard wines. The cellar's brandy is distilled exclusively from grapes grown in the surrounding region.

Interestingly, it is the only brandy cellar in South Africa to use the Solera method of maturation and blending. Initially developed by the sherry-makers in Spain, the brandy flows through layers of maturation barrels from the top to the bottom, depending on the degree of maturation desired.

Du Toit's Kloof Pass

For many years after the first farmers settled in the Berg River valley, the route across the Hawekwas and Klein Drakenstein mountains was nothing more than a game track. Although efforts to improve the pass were made as early as 1842, it was not until 1949 that Du Toit's Kloof Pass was completed. By the 1980s, increasing traffic volumes on the busy N1 highway running through the pass necessitated the construction of the nearly 4 km-long Huguenot Tunnel.

Begun at the end of 1984 and opened in March 1988, the tunnel cuts 11 km off the distance travelled along the old route. Motorists now have the option of travelling along the old pass 4, which affords beautiful vistas of the Berg River valley, or taking the shorter route through the toll tunnel.

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