Where is the Swartland? A concise guide to South Africa’s maverick wine route

Where on earth is the Swartland? If you’ve been keeping your finger on the pulse of the South African wine industry over the last few years, chances are you’ve heard about the maverick wine route that’s been making waves somewhere along the west coast, and you’ve meant to get out here to see what the fuss is about. We’re here to tell you that it’s about time you do so, and to give you a quick crash course on the landscapes you’ll be covering on the way here.  

How to get to the Swartland

First things first, let’s map out the Swartland a little bit. One of the big misconceptions about going on a Swartland wine tour is that you will have to drive for ages to get here from Cape Town. In actual fact, it will take you about an hour to get to Malmesbury from the Mother City via the N7 or the N1 and R304. Here’s the handy Google Maps link. See? So close! You could also take the West Coast road from Blouberg side if you want to travel along the coast for the pretty views, but that will take a little longer. 

Once you get to Malmesbury, you’ll essentially be in the middle of the Swartland, with the option of heading to the West Coast towns and wineries via the R315, towards the Riebeek Valley via the R46 (the turnoff is just outside of Malmesbury en route to Paarl), or continuing on towards Moorreesburg by sticking to the N7.

The reason we’re directing you to Malmesbury is because the town serves as the unofficial capital and gateway to the Santam Swartland Wine and Olive Route. Here, in the Tourism Information Centre, you will also be greeted by the very friendly Jolene Janse van Rensburg, Manager of the Route. Jolene can provide you with a tourist map and more specific pointers to embark on your adventure through our beautiful region, nestled between the three mountains of Paardeberg, Riebeekberg and Piketberg in the north.

Jolene Janse van Rensburg at the Tourism Information Centre in Malmesbury.
The Dutch Reformed Church in Malmesbury as captured by Heather Mason of 2Summers during her recent visit to the Swartland.

TOP TIP: As of June 2019, there are still ongoing roadworks on many parts of the N7, which is great news because it means that a beautifully efficient dual carriageway is in our near future. At the moment, however, it means a lot of construction vehicles and stop/go occurrences. Please be patient, drive safely and don’t take any unnecessary risks along the way. 

The wine regions of South Africa.
Piketberg in the northern stretches of the Swartland.
Schalk Opperman, Winemaker at Lammershoek Wines in the Paardenerg, looking towards Kasteelberg in the distance.
Sadie Family Wines and Lammershoek in the Swartland’s Paardeberg.
Kasteelberg in the Swartland’s Riebeek Valley. Picture courtesy of the Riebeek Valley Wine Co.

Why is it called the Swartland? 

The area that lies between the three mountains of Kasteelberg, Paardeberg and Piketberg was first called ‘Het Swartland’ in writing on 22 August 1701 by Corporal Tarus of the Riebeek Kasteel Military Post. In his book ‘Place Names of the Cape’, Colin Graham Botha suggested that it was due to the colour of the soil, but if you take a look at the rather fabulous soils we have out here today (decomposed granite, Swartland shale and Hutton – great for growing vines!) that seems pretty unlikely, since it’s mostly a rich reddish-brown. 

Gazing down into the greater Riebeek Valley from Kasteelberg Mountain on Kloovenburg Wine and Olive Estate. Learn more about their safeguarding the Renosterbos of the Swartland with WWF. Picture courtesy of the Riebeek Valley Wine Co.

The most likely explanation is that the name was derived from the indigenous Renosterbos foliage that turns a very dark shade at certain times of the year, dappling the landscape in grey-black hues. Back when the area was first being explored, this phenomenon could very well have been the origin on the name ‘Swartland’, although we don’t have any written evidence to corroborate this fact 100%. 

How long has the Swartland been around? 

Well, the place itself has been around for about 175 million years, since the supercontinent Pangaea first split into the continents we study in Geography at school today. However, the written history of the area we call the Swartland came about in the 1600s, when Commander Jan van Riebeeck established a victualling station for the VOC along the Cape of Good Hope and started sending expeditions to find more indigenous people with whom he could trade. 

Jan Wintervogel was sent out on 15 March 1655, but it was the expedition lead by Pieter Cruijthoff on 30 January 1661 that would ultimately put the region on the map as a potential agricultural outpost. He travelled as far as Kasteelberg Mountain, encountering quaggas, rhinoceros, lions and hartebeest along the way. The first loan farms in this area were later granted to settlers at the turn of the 18th century due to a rapidly increasing demand for cattle and crops as the Cape settlement grew from a victualling station into a colony.

The oldest Swartland wine farms

Some of the wineries on the Swartland Wine- and Olive Route are situated on these first farms that were established as free holdings in the region. Kloovenburg Wine & Olive Estate as it stands at the foot of Kasteelberg today has been farmed in some capacity since the 1704, when governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel gave it to Jan Bothma, who was already settled in Stellenbosch, and used his Swartland holdings mainly for livestock. 

The first ever mention of the Lammershoek can be found in documentation that dates back to 1714, when it was granted as a lone farm to one Adriaan van Jaarsveld and his wife Cornelia Nel, a newly married French Huguenot couple. Official ownership was granted to the couple in 1718, and in 1719 we find the first mention of 600 vines being planted on Lammershoek. It was these vineyards that paved the way for the winemaking tradition that is still alive and well  on the farm today.

READ MORE: Encounter heritage, history and adventure at Lammershoek in the Swartland

The fascinating history of Allesverloren in the Riebeek valley can be traced back all the way to the late-1600s. This beautiful farm between Riebeek West and Riebeek Kasteel was given its rather interesting name in 1704, when it was officially recognised as a loan farm by Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel, who granted the lease to a widow Cloete.  

READ MORE: Allesverloren: Danie Malan on losses, gains and the singular appeal of the Swartland

Visit the Swartland for wine tours & more!

Intriguing, right? Now all you need to do is come visit us to explore and experience this multifaceted area for yourself. Come taste our wines, enjoy our olives, stay in our gorgeous accommodation and discover the well-known Swartland hospitality that has become renowned around the globe. We double dare you! It will be an adventure you’ll always remember. 

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