When Cathy and Kevin Marston founded their wine bar, The Nose, in 2001 in Cape Town, there were few who had ventured into the unique arena alongside them.
The loneliness of the Nose must have felt eerily similar to the first wine bars that opened in Stellenbosch in the 2010s. Rose Jordaan remembers a time when Bartinney Wine & Champagne Bar on Bird Street had few neighbours when it opened in 2013. (It is the oldest wine bar in town.)
Rose says: “Many years ago, when Bartinney Wine Bar opened, we tried to promote the idea of an Urban Walking Wine Route – it’s finally caught on.”
While estate visits can only be limited to the hospitality of a few in an afternoon, Rose describes a “walking wine route” as a multi-wine estate tasting experience with no drinking and driving.
“We have plenty of people walking around town for its beauty and history – Stellenbosch is South Africa’s second-oldest town, and it’s full of tourists and students, and has fantastic energy,” Rose explains.
The walking wine route has expanded substantially to include Plaisir Wine Lounge on Bird Street, Le Grande Domaine Enoteca on Church Street alongside QBar by Quoin Rock Wine Estate, Stellenbosch Wine Bar and Brampton Wine Studio. Spek n Bone is a small-plates eatery and wine bar helmed by Chef Bertus Basson near Dorp Street. Ryneveld Street is home to Beyerskloof Wine Bar, Simon Wine Bar at De Warenmarkt and The Wine Glass.
Broadcaster and host of “Dan Really Likes Wine” Dan Nicholl describes The Wine Glass, which is both in Hermanus and Stellenbosch, as terrific. He says: “There are 130 different wines available by the glass and there is the option of tasting assorted flights, including a selection of regal reds like The Waterford Jem, Hartenberg Gravel Hill and Jordan Sophia. It’s an extraordinary selection, accompanied by lively décor, a good-looking menu and the coolest piano you’re likely to encounter.”
Dan recently explored Stellenbosch wine bars for his online show and says: “I’ve always loved the idea of wine bars and the chance to sample a range of different glasses with tapas or small plates, and so setting off to explore the streets in Stellenbosch in search of wine bars had considerable appeal.”
Rose says that the Bartinney team has an affinity for small plates and snacks, as well as food that will complement the wine and bring like-minded people together. For the wine list, she says: “We have our current Estate vintages and we always have a Secret Wine menu of special vintages that are often not available for sale. We now have three different brands (Bartinney, Noble Savage and Plaisir de Merle).”
In 2020, the Bartinney team purchased the historic Plaisir de Merle Wine Estate in Franschhoek. Rose has used various influences from her career, including her success as an architect to inform the design of the wine bars that she is part of.
“It’s about authenticity, Bartinney Wine Bar is like an extension of Bartinney – our home – and its earthy and artisanal. Plaisir has a rich tapestry of history and the more luxurious historical décor reflects this,” Rose explains.
“As an architect, I am influenced by the context of where things and places find themselves. What surrounds the place influences the expression of what we design,” Rose says.
While the wine estate experience is unparalleled, the proximity to the buzz in Stellenbosch and several restaurants has turned Stellenbosch into a haven for what Dan calls “an urban wine route”.
Dan concludes: “There’s a real buzz to Stellenbosch at the moment, and the streets are alive with people enjoying a town where walking is encouraged by the layout, proximity and relative safety of the environment. Add in the wine culture that’s such a heartbeat of Stellenbosch and small wine bars are a natural fit for the town.”