Vineyard

Best South Africa Wine Tour: My Day with La Rochelle Tours

Last updated Jan 14, 2023 | Best Wine Africa, South Africa

If you landed on this page, you obviously love wine and want to experience some of South Africa’s best! South Africa has several incredible wine regions to explore. One of the best ways to discover some of these world-class wineries is through a group or private South Africa wine tour. 

We chose La Rochelle Tours. Here’s what to expect from a day on their full-day tour.  

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Why We Chose a Private Wine Tour 

Whether you are staying in Cape Town and doing a day trip or spending several days in South Africa’s wine country, I would strongly recommend booking a wine tour. 

We have experienced many types of wine tours from around the world including large and small group tours, private tours, and hop-on hop-off tours. With 2 full days in wine country, we chose a South Africa private wine tour on Day 1 and a DIY Uber wine tour on Day 2. Both were great experiences for different reasons. 

If you want to learn more about our DIY wine tour using Uber, read our article below. 

South Africa has five famous wine regions. One of those regions is Walker Bay, which is about 1.5 hours from Cape Town. Walker Bay is important because it contains an area called Hemel-en-Aarde, which translates to “heaven and earth” in the Afrikaans language. This little pocket of the world is known for producing some incredibly elegant, high-quality wines. Pinot Noir (our favorite!) thrives in this cool climate. If you are serious about wine and want to try some of South Africa’s best, this is the area to check out! 

Most group wine tours will take you to the wine regions of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, but there are very few who will make the long drive to Walker Bay. That is the reason we chose the highly-rated company La Rochelle Tours for a private wine tour of this specific wine region. 

Our South Africa Wine Tour Itinerary 

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QUICK SUMMARY OF THE DAY

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WINE REGION VISITED

Walker Bay (Hemel-en-Aarde Valley)

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TRANSPORT USED

La Rochelle Tours. We chose them because of their great reputation and they were able to accommodate us going to specific wineries known for Pinot Noir in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

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COST

R 3880 for 9 hours for 2 people. Wine tastings and tip were not included.

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WINERIES VISITED

Storm, Creation (had lunch), Hamilton Russell

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SOUTH AFRICA WINE TOUR ITINERARY

Although we will try various white wines, we prefer red wine (especially pinot noir), so we purposely seek out this grape variety. So, when we read head sommelier Luvo Ntezo of the One & Only Cape Town Hotel report that Hemel-en-Aarde valley is one of his favorite regions for top pinot noir wine producers, we knew we had to go!

Appointments are often necessary for these small boutique wineries located in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. All the wineries we visited required advance appointments. 

8 AM: Pick-up time

Delicious omelette breakfast at Cape Vue Country House in Franschhoek South Africa

Breakfast at Cape Vue Country House in Franschhoek, South Africa

We ate a big breakfast first at our hotel, Cape Vue Country House. La Rochelle Tours picked us up at our accommodation. We enjoyed a beautiful 90-minute ride out to Hemel-en-Aarde Valley for our first wine stop.

10 AM: Winery #1- Storm Wines

Winemaker Hannes at Storm Winery in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

My husband and I with winemaker Hannes at Storm Winery in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

Arrived at Storm Wines (by appointment only). Do not expect a sprawling estate with an elaborate tasting room. The focus here is producing exceptional quality wine, which we loved!  Storm Wines is a boutique winery with a very small production of only pinot noir and chardonnay. For example, the Storm Ignis Pinot Noir 2018 only produced 290 cases! Vineyards were planted in 2008, with the first wine released in 2014.

We met with the lovely humble winemaker, Hannes Storm, casually sitting on his couch in his workspace as he walked us through the three pinot noirs he produces in each of the 3 appellations of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, and Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge). You will not find a more dedicated, passionate winemaker whose sole focus is Pinot Noir perfection. With exceptional terroir and minimal intervention, he is able to produce three distinct Burgundian-style pinot noirs that stand out due to their unique character: Vrede, Ignis, and the Ridge.

Storm Winery in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley South Africa

Vrede Pinot Noir 2017

The Vrede exhibits good structure and depth with grippy tannins and has a darker fruit profile that is not too overt. Decanter recently had a Pinot Noir Panel Tasting and listed the Storm Vrede 2017 in the Top 50 wines in the New World for a single vineyard Pinot Noir. The Ignis is lighter and more feminine, with raspberry and strawberry notes. It is beautifully balanced with silky tannins. The Ridge is an elegant, well-structured wine with bright acidity and spicy notes.

On a side note, Hannes’ brother Ernst also owns a winery named Storm but in Santa Barbara County in California. He focuses on Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir using both Old and New World techniques.

11:30 AM: Winery #2 + Lunch- Creation Wines

Creation Restaurant in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley South Africa

Overlooking the vineyards at Creation Wines

The next stop was Creation, a gorgeous vineyard situated high up on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge with expansive views. It was established from virtually nothing in 2002 by Jean-Claude and Carolyn Martin and is now an award-winning wine farm.

We enjoyed a wonderful multi-course lunch with wine pairings. They have indoor and outdoor seating. We would have loved to dine alfresco on the deck, but it was a little windy and cool so we ate inside in the bright, cheerful dining area.

Dining area at Creation Wines in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in South Africa

Dining area at Creation Wines in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in South Africa

One standout harmonious pairing was the Reserve Pinot Noir with the lamb loin, star anise, poached pear, polenta, and goat cheese. The Creation Reserve Pinot Noir was smooth and had crisp acidity with fresh raspberry on the nose. Another sensational pairing was the Creation Estate Syrah-Grenache with the springbok shank with waterblommetjies (edible water plant). The Syrah-Grenache blend was peppery, full-bodied with flavors of ripe plum. Since our waitress knew we were pinot noir enthusiasts, we also tasted the Art of Pinot Noir, which was a lovely complex wine tasting of dark cherry and plum with subtle spice. Allot about 2 hours for this delicious culinary experience.

Lamb loin, star anise poached pear,  polenta, & goat cheese at Creation Restaurant in Hermanus, South Africa

Lamb loin, star anise, poached pear, polenta, & goat cheese at Creation Restaurant

springbok shank with waterblommetjies at Creation Restaurant in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in South Africa

Springbok shank with waterblommetjies at Creation Restaurant

After lunch, wander around the property admiring the magnificent, unique sculptures crafted by talented local artist Nanette Ranger.

Sculpture by Nanette Ranger at Creation Wines in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in South Africa

Sculpture by Nanette Ranger at Creation Wines in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in South Africa

2:15 PM: Winery #3- Hamilton Russell 

Sitting outside on the deck at Hamilton Russell in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in South Africa

Sitting outside on the deck at Hamilton Russell in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in South Africa

Last wine stop of the day! Hamilton Russell. It all started in 1975 when Tim Hamilton Russell saw the potential and purchased the property right outside of Hermanus to make some of the country’s top cool climate wines. He is considered the pioneer of high-quality winemaking in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. His son, Anthony Hamilton Russell, then took over the reins in 1991 and decided to only showcase two grape varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay after conducting extensive soil research. Hamilton Russell also owns two separate estates: Southern Rights and Ashbourne.

What makes Hamilton Russell wines stand out? Terroir + farming organically. With the stony, shale-derived, and clay-rich soil and the cooling breezes from the nearby ocean, Pinot Noir thrives with minimal intervention. Hamilton Russell wines are known for being more European in style even though it is a New World wine, taking on more structure and complexity with savory and spicy notes instead of exhibiting more “fruit-forward” flavors that New World Pinot Noirs are known for.

COOL FACT: Hannes Storm from Storm Wines actually used to be the winemaker for Hamilton Russell until venturing out on his own in 2012. There is a 5-bottle vertical tasting (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014) you can purchase when Hannes Storm was the winemaker for part of that time. I wish we had room in our suitcase because I would have bought it in a heartbeat.

Ok, back to the Hamilton Russell wine tasting experience. We had several outstanding wines while relaxing outside on the deck overlooking the lake. One was the Estate Pinot Noir 2018, which was savory and earthy with mineral tones and bright acidity. We also tasted the Ashbourne Pinotage 2016 (very intense, complex, and rich) and the Ashbourne Pinotage/Cinsault 2019,an interesting blend of 80% Pinotage (which is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault) and an additional 20% Cinsault from the Swartland region. Hamilton Russell is also well-known for its Chardonnay, but we only tasted the red wines.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir

Enjoying our wine tasting out by the lake at Hamilton Russell in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in South Africa

Enjoying our wine tasting out by the lake at Hamilton Russell in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in South Africa

Pinotage has been misunderstood over the years but now South African winemakers have given it a bright future by creating beautiful, elegant expressions of this grape variety.

3:30 PM: Hermanus + Wine Village 

Seaside town of Hermanus in South Africa

Seaside town of Hermanus in South Africa

We could have incorporated one more winery to visit, but we decided instead to visit the quaint seaside town of Hermanus. As we drove around the charming town, it made me wish we had spent the night there for 1 night. We walked around the seaside boardwalk for about 30 minutes or so to stretch our legs and watch the whales play in the distance. Peak whale season runs from September-November.

Wine Village Shop in Hermanus South Africa

Wine Village Shop in Hermanus, South Africa

Before leaving, you must stop at the Wine Village, which is a local wine shop that carries an impressive stock of all the best South African wines, gins, and brandies. The staff is super helpful in guiding you in your selection. They also do periodic tastings. This shop consistently is voted as one of South Africa’s best wine shops. It proudly hosts the annual Hermanus Wine & Food Festival, where one can enjoy wine tastings, live entertainment, food trucks, and more. Hannes Storm did not have any wine to sell during our tasting, so we were able to pick up some of his wines at this friendly shop. 

If you wanted to add 1 more winery to the itinerary (instead of the Hermanus/Wine Village stop), other wineries we would have loved to visit had there been time were Crystallum (we were able to try their wine at The Pot Luck Club- Mabalel Pinot Noir), Bouchard Finlayson (we were able to try their wine at The Test Kitchen-Galpin Peak Pinot Noir), and Ataraxia.

7:30 PM: Dinner at La Petite Colombe 

Karoo lamb with pumpkin, salsa verde, and smoked olive at La Petite Colombe Restaurant in Franshhoek South Africa

Karoo lamb with pumpkin, salsa verde, and smoked olive at La Petite Colombe Restaurant in Franschhoek, South Africa

We were dropped off at our accommodation around 6 pm to relax and freshen up before dinner.  After a short walk of 5 minutes from our hotel in Franschhoek, we arrived at La Petite Colombe. This dining establishment is the sister restaurant to La Colombe, which is one of the top restaurants in South Africa.

The multi-course menu was playful and focused on the best seasonal products. We chose to do the wine pairings along with our meal. Some of our favorites included the Malay tuna with avocado and coriander paired with the Normandie ‘Karen’ Rose 2016 and the Karoo lamb with pumpkin, salsa verde, and smoked olive paired with the Domaine Des Dieux ‘Josephine’ Pinot Noir 2011. The dining experience took about 3 1/2 hours, so plan accordingly. 

If you still need restaurant recommendations for your South Africa wine country getaway, check out my article below.

Wine Tour Tips

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START WITH A BIG BREAKFAST

A day of drinking is going to require a solid meal to start.

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HYDRATE THROUGHOUT THE DAY!

Most wine tours will provide water, or the wineries will provide water if asked. I always bring my water bottle and hydrate in between tastings. 

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PACK SOME WINE SLEEVES

If you want to bring back some of those lovely wine bottles, you will need a way to transport them. You could wrap them in your clothes in your luggage. We’ve done that too, but now we use wine sleeves. Cross my fingers, no broken bottles yet! 

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WEAR SUNSCREEN

Some wineries include a tour of the vineyards. You may be outdoors longer than you think. I always wear my Elta MD UV Clear sunscreen. 

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DOWNLOAD THE VIVINO APP

If you want to keep track of all that lovely wine you just tried, download the Vivino app and take a photo. You can rate what you tasted and also compare it to other users’ ratings. Love this app! 

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KEEP YOUR PHONE FULLY CHARGED

Wine tours can last all day. I take a lot of photos and videos during vacation, so I always bring my portable phone charger. 

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BRING A LIGHT JACKET

Your wine tour may include a visit to the wine cellar. I usually bring my Anatomie light travel jacket or my Lilly Pulitzer denim jacket just in case. 

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WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES

Some of the wine tours may include a visit to the vineyards, which require walking in the fields. My Rothys always work well for these situations. Comfortable, classy flats that can be cleaned in a washer if needed. 

What to Wear at the South Africa Wineries

We have been to quite a few amazing wine destinations, so I’ve had a little practice figuring out what outfits work best.

My husband and I visited the Cape Winelands in the spring (September). I would recommend smart casual attire and personally wore this outfit (as seen in the photo earlier with the winemaker at Storm).

If you need more inspiration on what to wear at a winery, don’t miss my article below.

Final Thoughts

It is very difficult to visit the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley without having a driver. Our driver from La Rochelle Tours was very professional and friendly and provided a wonderful experience as he transported us from place to place. He was a local and was able to provide history and fun stories of the area in addition to giving great suggestions of what to do and see along our trip. Fantastic service! 

If you want to know more about all the tours offered, check out La Rochelle Tours’ official website below. 

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Questions about our South Africa wine tour?

Let me know in the comments below!

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