Wine-loving travelers to South Africa may wonder about the best wine area in South Africa. In truth, the answer lies not just with the quality of the drinks themselves, but exceptional experiences that come with it. In considering the question, I set out to weigh the offering at De Hoop Collection. An unrivalled wilderness experience just three hours’ drive from Cape Town, towards the famous Garden Route. There’s an impressive hoard of wines that showcase the region, to boot.

De Hoop Coastline


Early on, I find myself on a rocky beach. After a few minutes of scratching around in a rock pool, my nature guide Dillon Visagie rises from his crouch and opens his hand. In it is a green, wet blob like one might have sneezed out. “A flatworm,” he beams, and then: “It’s harmless to humans, but did you know they fence with their penises?”

I’d long known De Hoop Nature Reserve by its reputation as a premier destination for land-based whale-watching, but this was something else. To the untrained eye, flatworms are invisible where they idle in the dimples of submerged rocks and pebbles. I learn from Dillon they’re generally laid-back, until it’s mating time. Then, with flourish, the hermaphroditic creatures whip out their phalluses and try to inseminate the other by piercing their skin.

I’m a little stunned. I have stood here numerous times. At the rim of the vast coastal wilderness, entranced by magnificent giants lolling about in the seemingly endless ocean-sky. But, just inches from my toes, pure operatic drama-in-a-puddle plays out all. the. time.


Frankly, it’s bewildering to consider everything else that may be going on given the size of the place. The 89 000 acres of the De Hoop conservation area is a World Heritage Site. It comprises of rich biodiversity and over 43 miles of coastline. A 12-mile wetland stretches across the reserve, which is on the Ramsar list of Wetlands of International Importance.

Guided experiences in the reserve offer an introduction to most of it, including a colony of rare Cape griffon vultures, eco-boat trips, and archaeology. The absence of dangerous predators means its open for unguided walking and mountain-biking.

Only a handful of private tourism concessions have been permitted in the reserve. The longest running of these being the De Hoop Collection. Its accommodation facilities range from campsites, small, grass-roofed and self-catering cottages and larger houses that sleep up to six people. The also offer suites and a historic, stone manor house.

For a few days, I’m ensconced at the latest addition – a plush, secluded villa overlooking the head of the wetland, known as De Mond. It has its own chef on the small staff, so needs are met speedily. Between discovering the fascinating world of undersea willy-wars and bird-gazing from my lounger, one evening I take the drive to try The Fig Tree restaurant at the De Hoop Collection Village.


Here I discover a new wonder: the wine collection. De Hoop Collection owner William Stephens is not only a passionate conservationist, but also keen lover of wine. That his vinoteque houses some 450 specimens stands to reason then.

The cellar is slightly hidden from view in the restaurant, but when I spy an entrance to a room that appears curved, curiosity gets the better of me. It turns out that the space is a former silo, remnant of the reserve’s agricultural past. In fact, the room now housing a restaurant was once a sheep shearing shed built in the 1800s.

Stepping inside the wine cellar-silo gives the sense of being inside a Willy Wonka playground, with the bottle-housed shelves circling up to a high ceiling. I pull out a few bottles and recognize Beeslaar, Delaire Graff, and Boekenhoutskloof.

These are big, I think, as I skip a few rows and fish for more. I discover Bouchard Finlayson, Creation, Mullineux Family Wines, and Glenelly.

It’s an impressive array, potentially among the Western Cape’s finest. William tells me later in the restaurant that they primarily source from the wider Overberg, known for its cool climate wines, and iconic, boutique estates.

On determining the best wine area in South Africa, consider the region surrounding De Hoop. It includes the world-famous Hemel-en-Aarde near Hermanus and Cape Aghulhas Wine Triangle. The former is the heartland of many of the country’s best Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs. The latter, home to unique terroir with the southernmost vineyards on the African continent.

It’s an impressive arsenal for William at De Hoop. “From time to time, we overlay these with wine collections we purchase, allowing us to have some interesting diversity,” he says. The restaurant wine list is re-evaluated every quarter, changing as new wines are added.


Considering the cellar, it’s no surprise the restaurant occasionally hosts wine-focused events, like food-and-wine pairings and winemaker dinners. Its Wine, Whales and Music is an annual showcase, which celebrated its first decade this year. 

These are times when in-house sommelier Dennis Chikukutu shines. “South African wines are extremely diverse, which is why we try to make sense of it for our guests, focusing on the excellent wines of the Overberg and prominent South African varieties such as Pinotage,” he says.

People eating a meal and enjoying beyerskloof wines

Among the rarest that William and Stephen have to offer are Beyerskloof Field Red Blend 2011; Ernie Els Signature Red Blend Jeroboam 2006; Groot Constantia Governers Reserve 2003; Knorhoek wine Pantere Cabernet Sauvignon 2011; La Vierge  Nymphomane 2012; Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir 2015; Sijnn Red 2009/2011; Steenberg Christine 1996; Vilafonté M 2016 and C 2013; Villiera The Clan 2015; and, Warwick Trilogy Jeroboam 2003.

With each representing a particular and very special microcosm of the local wine universe, it’s a wonderful full-circle with De Hoop’s South African wine and whale-watching offering. I sit down for lunch, comforted by the waiter who assures me the menu today is superb and interesting, but flatworm will never feature.


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BY Clifford Roberts | December 18, 2023

Clifford Roberts (BTech Journ) is a veteran writer whose coverage of wine for leading publications over two decades has taken him from oak forests of Hungary to vineyards among the peaks of Reunion Island. He is a member of the invitation-only SA African Brandy Guild and is based on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, heartland of South African wine.

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