4 facts about Stellenbosch you may not know
If you’re thinking of coming to visit Stellenbosch, then it’s best you brush up on a little general knowledge of this historic town, the second oldest town in South Africa after Cape Town.
The town’s name comes from Simon van der Stel, first Governor of the Cape Colony.
Van der Stel was born to a white father while his mother was the daughter of a freed Indian slave woman. This made him the first mixed race governor as well, although the Apartheid era government never acknowledged this. Stellenbosch was founded in 1679 and was named after him as is Simon’s Town in False Bay. In addition to being a political leader, van der Stel was a keen botanist, farmer and winemaker who started the oldest wine estate in the country, Groot Constantia.
A city of oaks
The settlers who first lived in the Stellenbosch area were encouraged by van der Stel to plant oak trees as the land was fertile and he planted many himself. Today, you will see massive, regal oak trees framing the homes and lining the streets amongst the vineyards. Some of these trees are so old, they have been marked as National Monuments. Due to the large oak tree numbers, Stellenbosch received the nickname, “Eikestad,” which means “village of oaks.”
Van der Stel was awestruck by the scenic beauty of Stellenbosch as well as how arable the land was. Once it was earmarked for the site of a new town, homes were built from the local trees including yellowwood and stinkwood. The homes were then finished with a white-lime wash and roofed with thatch. Walking down the roads in the town, you will be able to see that many traditional homesteads still stand and that some are open for viewing as they have been declared historical sites.
Glorious, award-winning bounty
Wine has been Stellenbosch’s most famous and well-awarded export, with tourists visiting the numerous vineyards on tasting tours. The prestigious Platter’s South African Wine Guide is released every year, detailing the top wine picks in the country. 2014’s edition listed 80 wines for the award of the highest honour of five stars, compared to last year’s 62. Five star wines are decided by individual tasters and go on to a second round of blind tasting until they are deemed worthy. Four Stellenbosch wine estates achieved the coveted accolade for not just one, but two five star wines.
- Tokara: Tokara Walker Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2013 and Tokara Director’s Reserve White Blend 2012
- De Morgenzon: DeMorgenzon Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012 and De Morgenzon Maestro White 2012 (also voted White Wine of the Year).
- Stark-Conde: Stark-Condé Three Pines Syrah 2011 and Stark-Condé Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
- Reyneke: Reyneke Chenin Blanc 2012 and Reyneke Reserve White Blend 2011
If you enjoy a good wine-tasting, read our feature on one of Stellenbosch’s most prestigious wine estates, Rust en Vrede.