Stellenbosch Wine Routes celebrates half-century of leadership and innovation

Spier wine farm
Spier Wine Farm

The Stellenbosch Wine Routes celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, a milestone that also marks the birth of South African wine tourism.

Beyond offering the highest density of exceptional premium wines in South Africa, the Stellenbosch Wine Routes paved the way for the creation of the country’s wine tourism, an industry that contributes R7.2bn to GDP per year.

Since its first step 50 years ago, the footprint of wine tourism has extended to wine-producing regions in five provinces with 23 recorded wine routes. The development of wine tourism in South Africa has also led to the transformation of the rural landscape in these wine routes, with state-of-the-art wine estates, graded hotels and event facilities having been added for guests. More than half of member wineries have incorporated food-related experiences into their wine-tourism offering.

Today, the Stellenbosch Wine Routes comprises a myriad of world-class wine tourism encounters in addition to wine tastings. From wine safaris to award-winning gourmet affairs, the Stellenbosch Wine Routes justifiably earns its reputation of being the biggest visitor attraction outside of Cape Town. Every year, hundreds of thousands of guests traditionally visit the area, which is a staple of trips to the Western Cape – for both local and international guests.

The Stellenbosch wine region has received the most wine awards per capita than any other of its kind in South Africa, underscoring a link between quality of wine and successful wine tourism.

The Stellenbosch Wine Routes was founded by a now-famous fearless threesome who sought to change the existing status quo in the 1960s of grapes being sent to co-ops to produce the final product. At the time, the industry was controlled by KWV and co-operatives due to oversupply and vineyard owners could not sell wine under their own labels.

During a trip to Burgundy in 1969, Frans Malan (Simonsig) and Niel Joubert (Spier) discovered the famous Routes des Vins at Morey St Denis and saw the possibility of a similar scenario being established in Stellenbosch. Returning home, the two regrouped with Spatz Sperling (Delheim) to form the new organisation and so the Stellenbosch Wine Routes was officially launched in 1971. The three founding members were soon joined by Groenland, Koopmanskloof, Blaauwklippen, Verdun, Overgaauw, Neethlingshof, Hazendal, Uiterwyk, Muratie, Mooiplaas, Hartenberg and Koelenhof.

Today, the wine route has five sub-routes offering diverse wine tourism experiences, from all-inclusive luxury wine estates with tasting rooms, restaurants, and accommodation to small boutique wineries. It currently has over 120 wine and grape producer members within the boundaries of Stellenbosch Wine of Origin classification.