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Posted on: Monday, 19 July 2010

Klein Karoo wine route – spit or swallow?

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Karoo Wine Route

Karoo Wine Route

This is dry country. Days of continuous rain, as is so often the case in Cape Town during winter, don’t happen here. You won’t find traffic jams, much crime, or townhouse complexes either. In short, the Klein Karoo, or Little Karoo, is  heaven, an arid oasis of open spaces, neighbourliness, wind pumps and the odd donkey cart…

The bonus is that it’s also the closest part of the Karoo to Cape Town (most southerly). It changes the landscape just after Robertson and includes the little towns of Montagu, Barrydale, Ladismith, Calitzdorp, Oudtshoorn and De Rust, and then heads up in an ever-widening swathe just inland of the west coast where it meets Namibia at Kuboes.

It’s a semi-desert subregion of the Great Karoo, locally known as the Klein Karoo because mostly Afrikaans is spoken here. But don’t assume that this is all flat, dry, dust-blown landscape. Anything but. The Little Karoo is filled with  mountains, a fertile valley, gorgeous fynbos and charming little towns.

Karoo Wine Route

Karoo Wine Route

It is also one of the most diverse wine regions in South Africa and considered an ‘undiscovered’ gem if you think that some of the country’s best ports, muscadels and brandies come from here. Through here winds Route 62, past vines grown on the  slopes of the Swartberg, Langeberg and Outeniqua mountains and in the fertile soil along the banks of the tributaries of the Gouritz River that wind through here – the Touws, Gamka and Olifants.

For current, up to date listings of all wine producers in the area, see Klein Karoo Wine Estates.

The Klein Karoo Wine Route stretches along part of Route 62, winding from Cogmanskloof outside Montagu to the Langkloof and De Rust in the east. Wines are fruity, highly drinkable and rank with the best in the country. Pick up a wine route map and there are no fewer than 21 wine cellars and brandy producers to choose from, providing days worth of wine tasting and scenic driving.

In and around Montagu:
Visit: Montagu wine cellar, Uitvlucht, and Rietrivier

Karoo Wine Route

Karoo Wine Route

Montagu wine cellar, in the heart of the little town, began producing wine in 1941, producing mainly Muscadel, adding dry table wines to their offering later. The cellar has won Champion Co-Op cellar of the region a number of times and their red muscadel was chosen for the Nederburg Wine Auction four times, and described as ‘the best wine for the price anywhere in the world’.

Interesting tidbit: Montagu Wine Cellar were the fifth co-operative cellar to get BWI (Biodiversity and Wine Initiative) status

Uitvlugt is also a co-op cellar producing full-bodied red wines, crisp dry and fruity off-dry whites, port, a full-sweet muscadel and a sparkling wine. It’s the oldest winery in Montagu, and part of the BWI.

Interesting tidbit: the Cape Dutch house on some of the wine labels is the original homestead of the farm Uitvlucht, today known as Joubert House

Rietrivier is also a co-op of 46 members just 20 kilometres east of Montagu in the shadow of the Langeberg Mountain. They produce mainly red wines and muscadel in bulk and are a member of the Integrated Production of Wine system, which means they’re producing wine in as environmentally friendly a way as possible (many of the Klein Karoo cellars are also part of this initiative).

Interesting tidbit: Rietrivier Kitchen, a restaurant, has recently opened

In and around Barrydale:
Visit: Joubert-Tradauw, Barrydale Cellar

Joubert-Tradauw produces classic, elegant, handcrafted wines, more old-world style than new, using traditional methods with as little intervention in the cellar as possible. Their flagship wines are their Private Cellar Chardonnay, Private Cellar Syrah, Private Cellar R62 Merlot, Cabernet and their Reserwe 62.

Interesting tidbit: the wine estate produce wines under two labels – Joubert-Tradauw Private Cellar and Unplugged 62

Barrydale Cellar produces Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay/Viognier among their white wines, and Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot noir, and Shiraz amongst their reds. They also produce potstill brandy, although there is more than one brandy to the cellar.

Interesting tidbit: grapes for the range are grown on a tiny 15km x 3km piece of land, resulting in a unique taste

In and around Ladismith & Calitzdorp:
Visit: Ladismith, Boplaas, De Krans, Calitzdorp, Axe Hill, Du’SwaRoo, Withoek, Peter Bayly and TTT Cellar

Ladismith cellar produces a sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Chardonnay/Sauvignon blanc, Sauvignon blanc, Chenin blanc and Aristaat amongst their whites, and Ruby cabernet, Shiraz, Rosé, Touriga, Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet sauvignon, and a Muscadel and Hanepoot amongst their fortified wines.

Interesting tidbit: the cellar’s flagship label is Towerkop or magic mountain after the peak that overshadows the town

Boplaas is right in the town of Calitzdorp and known for its ports and award winning pot-stilled brandies. They produce three sparkling wines, a range of white, including an unwooded Chardonnay, and red wines that include Touriga nacional, Ring of rocks, and a Cabernet sauvignon, as well as their fortified wines, port and brandy.

Interesting tidbit: Boplaas is the first winery to let an elephant help tread the grapes

De Krans lies in the upper reaches of the Gamka River Valley and dates back to 1890. They produce a range of whites, including a Golden harvest, a number of red wines, including a Tinta barocca, a Tempranillo and a Red stone reserve, fortified wines and ports.

Interesting tidbit: De Krans is the first producer in the country to launch a pink port

Calitzdorp is a co-op cellar founded in 1928. They’re best known for their fortified wines – the sweet Muscadel and Hanepoort were their flagship wines – especially the port.

Interesting tidbit: Their new label is of the red hills that surround Calitzdorp

Axe Hill is set in a remote part of the country on the outskirts of Calitzdorp. Only one vintage is made each year from a blend of traditional Portuguese varietals and matured in old 500 litre old French oak barrels. They produce a Cape vintage port and a dry white port. Worth a visit just for its location.

Interesting tidbit: the name originates from the stone hand tools found on the farm, used by pre-historic man over a quarter of a million years ago

Du’SwaRoo lies just north of Calitzdorp on the road to Groenfontein. Wines on this boutique wine farm are produced from the shiraz and port vineyards and grapes sourced from neighbouring farms. View by appointment.

Interesting tidbit: the name represents the origins and new home of the owners – Durban, South West Africa and Klein Karoo

Withoek is a small boutique cellar – 50 hectares of irrigated land, 27 of which are under vines, mostly hanepoot and sultana. The rest is apricots and peaches and a few plum trees.

Interesting tidbit: there is a trail on the farm that takes one to a small hill called Jakkalskop, with a beautiful view over town

Peter Bayly is a little wine farm, producing vines in under two hectares of land. The farm produces one wine – Peter Bayly vintage reserve port.

Interesting tidbit: view by appointment only

TTT Cellar lies at the entrance to Calitzdorp and specialises in port and red wines. The farm has been growing Portuguese port cultivars since 2000.

Interesting tidbit: look out for the cross-stitching for sale at the cellar, done by the owners’ daughters

In and around Oudtshoorn:
Visit: Kango, Grundheim, Karusa, Bergwater

Kango is a co-op cellar producing a diverse range of wines that include sparkling, red, white, fortified wines, ports, brandies (including a buchu and honeybush brandy), witblits and assorted liqueurs.

Interesting tidbit: Kango restructured its bottling and marketing plant into a company called Kango Wines, so as to bring about an empowerment deal for employees and farm workers

Grundheim lies just outside of Oudtshoorn where grapes are allowed to ripen on the vine, so have a distinctive raisin character. They use no artificial colouring or sugar in their wines, which include a Chenin blanc, a Shiraz, a number of fortified wines, a port, a brandy and assorted liqueurs.

Interesting tidbit: they’re part of the art, cheese, chocolate and liqueur route

Karusa lies in the Cango Valley settlement of Schoemanshoek en route to the Cango Caves. The wine partnership has a number of brands of wine – the Karusa Lifestyle Collection, Reserve Collection and Karoo Classique Collection that include a fine array of whites and reds.

Interesting tidbit: Karusa is a Khoi San word meaning ‘land with little water’

Bergwater lies just outside Prince Albert village in the valley of the same name and is a combination of three farms amounting to 1500 hectares, 70 of which are under vine and the rest is a nature reserve.

Interesting tidbit: you can stay on Bergwater farm

In and around De Rust:
Visit: Domein Doornkraal, Excelsior Vlakteplaas

Domein Doornkraal has 22 hectares under vine at the foot of the Swartberg range of mountains in Kannaland. The Le Roux family’s basic philosphy is that wine is a gift from God designed to enhance life.

Interesting tidbit: one of their wines is called ‘Tickled Pink’

Excelsior Vlakteplaas is roughly 55 kilometres outside of Oudtshoorn along the Willomore road. Grapes have been grown here since the 1930s to produce a variety of wines, particularly muscadel.

Interesting tidbit: Danie Schoeman, the wine maker, is the fifth generation on the farm

In and around Herold:
Visit: Herold Wines

Herold Wines‘ viticulturist and winemaker is a woman, Vivien Harpur (although they used a visiting winemaker in 2008) and the farm has but six hectares under vine to produce Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc and Shiraz wines – grown and bottled on the farm.

Interesting tidbit: you can stay on the farm in a beautiful cottage called Buffspotted Flufftail, after the nocturnal bird

Useful Links:
Karoo Attractions
Things to Do in Karoo
Karoo Hotels
Karoo Accommodation
Western Cape Accommodation
Western Cape Wine Routes

Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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