Region overview: Franschhoek Wine Valley, South Africa

60 clicks east of Cape Town lies the Franschhoek Wine Valley. A place of heart-stopping natural beauty, world-famous vineyards, and a wild, rich history. Its first recorded name was Oliphant’s Hoek, which translates from the Dutch to ‘Elephants Corner’, so called, as before the vines this sheltered valley was the domain of the elephants, they would make an annual pilgrimage over the pass to calve on its slopes.

A long main road runs right through the small town, flanked by wine estates, restaurants, all kinds of shops from cheese to chocolate and apparel. French is everywhere, from the names of places to the architecture; a part of the tapestry of daily life. In tribute to the French culture is the Huguenot Monument, which you’ll find at the top of the main road. It was inaugurated in 1948 as a memorial to the Huguenots, who upon fleeing religious persecution made this valley their home in the 17th and 18th centuries—bringing over vines in rickety ships to plant vineyards. Hence the name change to Franschhoek – meaning ‘French Corner’. The valley has been making wine ever since, some descendants of the Huguenots still farm here today.

Set in manicured gardens, with the imposing Franschhoek mountains rising up behind it, the Huguenot Monument is a statue of a woman holding a broken chain in her left hand and a bible in her right: a pond in front it reflects the vision. Splitting off from this, are two long winding mountain roads, stitched in with vineyards, wildlife corridors, fynbos conservancies and baboon habitats.

The region is neatly enclosed on three sides by mountains: the ridges of the Groot Drakenstein and Franschhoek mountains meet at the top of the valley, and further down are the Klein Drakenstein and Simonsberg mountains, completing the half-circle.

Image by Chris Taylor via the Franschhoek Wine Valley

Franschhoek has a moderate-to-warm climate. The variation of slope aspects as well as the shadows cast by mountains helps to moderate temperatures as well as to reduce the amount of sunlight on the vineyards. The mountains also assist by trapping the cool southerly winds, which has the effect of lengthening the growing season. The soils are largely made up of alluvial sandstone with deposits of granite on the slopes of the mountains in the north.

Franschhoek is renowned for producing superlative Cap Classique, chardonnays of finesse and elegance with an underlying power, and richly textured, age-worthy reds, as well as fragrant, deft pinots with concentrated fruit and fine-boned texture.

Museum Wines represents four renowned Franschhoek estates

Black Elephant Vintners
A traditional estate this is not. Owned by three maverick partners, The Rebels Of The Vine, Black Elephant Vintners does things differently, but with integrity. Theirmission is to push the boundaries of conformity and to introduce a sense of fun into serious winemaking while capturing the taste and terroir of the Franschhoek Valley.

Haut Espoir
Distinctive, handcrafted wines in harmony with nature. Out of the 23-hectare property, only 8 is planted to vines. The remainder of the land is dedicated to fynbos restoration, a riverine ecosystem, olive groves and vegetable and herb garden. The focus here is on minimal impact to the environment with various eco-friendly management systems in place.

Holden Manz
Owned by Gerard Holden and Migo Manz, this farm has gone from strength to strength under their guidance alongside winemaker Thierry Haberer who trained under consultant Michel Rolland. The 22-hectare estate is located in the southern-most corner of the Franschhoek Valley, situated between the Franschhoek River and Stony Brook at 300-metres above sea level. Their focus is on small batch, premium Franschhoek wines.

Môreson Wine Farm
Chardonnay champions, MCC heroes, pinotage legends… after almost three decades of producing fine wines, Môreson has more than made a name for itself. With exceptional terroir, in the hands of its award-winning winemaker, magic is alive and well here. Winemaker Clayton Reabow has been at the helm at Moreson since 2006, he was named Diner’s Club Winemaker of the Year 2019, specifically for his 2017 vintage Mercator Chardonnay.