Christine Austin jets out to South Africa in search of winter sunshine, awe-inspiring wildlife and fine wines.

I am no good at beach-style holidays. I like to get out and do things and there are two activities that South Africa does extremely well – wine visits and safari and I have discovered the best way to combine the two.
Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is just a three-hour drive from Cape Town, and better still, you have to pass through a wine region to get there. The wine region is Robertson, just under 100 miles from Cape Town, and it is an easy drive, through Paarl and the fabulous scenery of the Du Toitskloof Pass. Watch out for raptors overhead and baboons sitting on roadside posts. When you arrive at Robertson there are many wineries worth a visit but my favourites are Graham Beck, Springfield and De Wetshof.
The main characteristics of Robertson are that it is a low-rainfall valley, surrounded by mountains with the Breede river running through. Much of the soil is a hard chalky limestone, which is not only good for grapes but for horses too, so there are horse breeding farms as well as vineyards in this area. Daytime temperatures can be high, but they plummet at night, allowing the vines to rest and retain vital acidity in the grapes.
Graham Beck makes seriously good sparkling wines in Robertson. In South Africa MCC doesn’t refer to cricket, it is Methode Cap Classique, a bottle-fermented sparkling wine. Try the strawberries on toast flavours of Graham Beck The Rhona Brut Rosé (Marks & Spencer £15).
Further along the main road of the valley, Springfield Estate (main image) has been making exceptional Sauvignons for decades. Once again it is the soil that provides those bitingly fresh, vibrant flavours that show particularly well in Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc (Booths, £11.99) but I am a great fan of the juicy, forest fruit flavours in Whole Berry Cabernet (around £13).
Continue through the valley to the De Wetshof estate, which really shines at Chardonnay. I was impressed by the way the style of these South African wines has changed in recent years. Now they are silky, tight, elegant and food friendly. Harrogate Fine Wine has a terrific range, but start with the light peachy notes and clear unoaked freshness of De Wetshof Bon Vallon at £10.99.
After three wine visits you might want to stay over in the region, and the small historic towns of McGregor and Montagu have plenty of lovely bed and breakfast places. Next day it is just an hour’s drive to Sanbona and the start of another adventure. Sanbona stretches across 130,000 acres, which is bigger than the triangle of land between York, Leeds and Harrogate. It used to be 19 farms, and before that it was occupied for centuries by San people who left cave paintings behind. This was the home of many wild animals, but over the last 100 years over-grazing and over-cultivation destroyed the land. Now, the land and its natural vegetation have been restored and the animals that would have lived there have been re-introduced.
The advantage of Sanbona is that you don’t need to take malaria tablets and you will see lots of wildlife. The Big Five are all there, but there is a whole lot more, including the magnificent scenery of the Klein Karoo. And when you have finished gazing in wonder, you can head back to the lodge for fabulous food and wine.
At Sanbona there is space, the animals are in their own environment and there is the thrill of coming across groups of elephant, giraffe and buffalo without a hoard of other tourist groups. There were two absolutely breathtaking experiences during my visit. The first was an encounter with a rare white rhino which seemed unperturbed by us standing 30 metres away, and the second was another out-of-vehicle excursion to see a cheetah and her three cubs relaxing after their substantial breakfast of springbok.
The South African rand is so low at present that even luxury safari stays have become affordable, and the wine is good. If you are thinking of swapping winter for summer, then contact me and I can help you with ideas.

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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