A toast to a future of excellence

Stellenbosch continues to drive its success in wine tourism.

By Ingrid Wood
Picnic at Warwick Wine Estate

Stellenbosch Wine Routes was launched in 1971 with the aim of attracting the public to visit wineries in the area to taste and buy wine, as well as to experience the winelands’ food, art, culture and overall hospitality. Over 50 years on, it’s the largest wine tourism collective in South Africa, representing more than 200 wine and grape producers within the Stellenbosch wine region, still focusing strongly on what’s inside the bottle as well as marketing the area and the farms.

Ernie Els Wines

The region’s reputation for producing quality wines and its potential as a tourism hub has seen global investors staking their claim in the Stellenbosch winelands. “It’s sad to see family businesses being sold but as the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all ships,” says Elmarie Rabe, General Manager of Stellenbosch Wine Routes and Marketing Manager of Visit Stellenbosch. “International investment is actually incredibly positive because it shows that the region carries weight as a fine wine producing area. There continues to be investment despite political issues and load shedding which is a great testament to the potential of the region.”

Elmarie Rabe

A bright future

It’s also a prime example of successful wine tourism, which will always exist as long as wine farms exist. Obviously, something like climate change is a massive threat, but South African producers are focusing more and more on regenerative agriculture and researching alternative grape varieties from Spain, Portugal and North Africa in an effort to future-proof the farms.

Elmarie, who was invited to present alongside other thought-leaders from wine destinations around the world, including Argentina, Armenia, Chile, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the USA, at the 7th UNWTO Global Conference on Wine Tourism in La Rioja, Spain, says that South Africa is “streets ahead in wine tourism” and the response to the country is extremely positive. “Everyone I met at the conference had either been to South Africa and spoke highly of their experience or know about South Africa and want to visit.”

Waterford Estate Vineyards

While the concept of a wine route may have originated in France, what we have here doesn’t exist in France, says Elmarie. “We’ve got amazing things around us in abundance – from views for miles to enjoy tastings on the patio, mountain tracks for cycling and hiking, access to fantastic produce and ingredients to create special pairings – and that’s what sets us apart. Every estate can offer something unique. It’s a simple and logical approach – look what is in your environment, what makes you special and develop products around that.”

It helps having Cape Town regularly honoured as one of the best cities in the world, but the winelands success is also thanks to the resourcefulness of the people in the industry who have been commended for creativity and innovation. “We have always shared information, always look for solutions. We are entrepreneurs, we want to be different, we want to make it a success, we want to be pioneers. We are just exceptionally good and organised,” says Elmarie.

Quoin Rock

What’s coming…

For now, the immediate focus is literally on being ‘more focused’, rather than being everything to everybody. To attract a more niche audience and affluent clientele looking for a variety of curated attractions, Visit Stellenbosch is looking to introduce The Stellenbosch Wine Safari, using wine as the gateway to a journey that highlights the region’s diverse experiences and offerings – food, art, culture and the outdoors.

“People want stories and authentic experiences. They want to feel connected. And if you can tick all those boxes and develop something around that, people will come back,” says Elmarie. “You need to make that connection and you do it through storytelling. That is what really enriches any experience.”

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