Last January Mr. Deep and I visited Stellenbosch located in the Western Cape Province. About 37 kilometers to the east of Stellenbosch is another lovely area also known for its wine and beauty called Franschhoek. We were lucky enough to spend a day in Franschhoek recently with family visiting from the U.S.A.
The Franschhoek wine valley was settled by French people who came by way of the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th centuries. These French Huguenots brought to South Africa their love of wine and knack for producing it so many of the vineyards in Franschhoek are very old. The area also boasts lovely Cape Dutch style architecture.
But enough about history and buildings. We came to Franschhoek to taste wine and eat delicious food all while enjoying a views of mountains and vineyards. And that is precisely what we did.
Based on a recommendation from a friend, we chose the Franschhoek Wine Tram as a means to visit wine farms. This seemed like a good idea, as opposed to a private driver and tour, for our large group of seven people. Immediately after I booked I began to worry that maybe it wasn't a good idea. The word tram in itself reminds me of Disney and all I could picture were hoards of tourists (us included) drunkenly cramming onto the trams, pouring out onto the once peaceful wine farms and overwhelming the staff and the tranquility. Most of all I worried that if the tram was crowded and the visits to the wine farms rushed that we wouldn't get to taste enough wine.
Driving to Franschhoek from Cape Town takes a little more than one hour. As we drove we noticed the area becoming more and more agricultural. Hawkers selling cell phone chargers were now hawkers selling fresh fruit. We drove closer and closer to a huge mountain range while cruising by bright green pastures with horses and cattle on the side of the road. I do remember thinking Stellenbosch was beautiful, but I think Franschhoek is even prettier although ideally if you are in the area you would visit both.
When we arrived, we were dropped off by our driver at the Wine Tram ticket booth. We checked in and talked with a very helpful staff member who gave us all the information we needed for our trip. I had chosen the 11:30 a.m. departure on the red route (there are numerous routes of all different colors so you could go on the wine tram more than once and visit some new wine farms each time.) At the tram office the staff helped us to select which farms to stop at based on our wine preferences. People who prefer white wine may be directed to visit different farms then those who prefer red. Since we were a large group of varying tastes I asked that we be directed to the prettiest stops as well as the most intimate so that we could meet a few winemakers.
I had strategically selected the red route at the time of booking because it contained the greatest number of wine farms of all the routes. I may not be good at math but I can count when it counts. When we checked in we learned we'd only have time to stop at five of the seven wineries on our route. This was actually reduced to only four stops because one of the stops involved staying longer and eating lunch. And by the way eating lunch is key if you want to successfully survive a day of wine tasting. The price of the tram (R220 per person) included a free tasting at one farm and a free welcome glass of wine at another. All of the rest of the tastings we had to pay for but they were quite inexpensive (about R60 per person.)
Once we got on board all of my fears quickly disappeared. First, the tram is not that large and maybe holds 30 people or so at one time. So my concerns about hundreds of people crowding into a little tasting room did not materialize. Second, and most important, the wine tram is extremely well organized. The host stands up front with a microphone clearly announces the time guests will be picked up (it's always a minimum of an hour that you can stay at any one farm.) He also clearly announced each stop. Guests can skip farms that don't interest them or that they need to skip due to lack of time. Finally, the tram waits for no man or woman. If you aren't waiting at the bus stop at the right time the tram will leave you and you will be stuck at that farm for another hour. I love things that run on time and don't deviate from the planned schedule because why should people who are late slow things down for everyone else? As the group leader, using the tram made for a more relaxing day for me as I was not spending my time trying to convince our group it was time to move on to the next farm. They all knew the schedule and that we had to stick to it.
The first stop was Chamonix. We sat outside a beautiful white Dutch Cape style building and were immediately greeted and given a tasting menu. We tasted three whites and two reds. I thought their wine was very good except for the chardonnay which was apparently award winning - even unoaked I don't like it.
Dieu Donne', our second stop, wins the prize of the day for the most beautiful location. It is set high up on a mountain with amazing 360 degree views. We stayed for two hours and enjoyed a fine lunch at ROCA overlooking the vineyards while sipping some chilled white wine.
|The view at Dieu Donne'|
Next, we moved onto Eikehof, which was my favorite stop. We had our tasting only steps away from rows of grapes on the vine and mountains in the background. We were served by the husband and wife team who own the farm. The wife explained that farming these days is very difficult financially and so being part of the wine tram tour really helps to get people to the farm to give their wine exposure.
|Eikehof Wine Farm|
For the final part of the tour we got off the tram and onto a train. The train tracks were built in 1904 and used until the 1990's. The tracks then went unused for years until the wine train began in 2012. We took the train to Rickety Bridge for our final tasting.
|An old Ford truck at Eikehof|
|Mr. Deep getting creative late in the tour with his wine tram sticker placement.|
It was a perfect day. We had great weather, a wonderful lunch, met some nice people, tasted lots of wine and enjoyed a memorable time with our family. Mr. Deep and I definitely want to return to Franschhoek again either with friends or by ourselves for a weekend.