Founding of The Stellenbosch Wine Route

The subject of the founding of Stellenbosch Wine Route - the first wine route in South Africa - came up in a podcast recommended in the thread on Wine Podcasts.

I thought this recollection by Michael ‘Spatz’ Sperling of Delheim, one of its three founders, of how it came about it would amuse and interest:

Another pioneering marketing tool for Cape wine was initiated one day in 1971, when a rather excited Frans Malan of Simonsig returned from Europe and proclaimed: “Sperling, the French have a Route de Vin. We must also establish one, just here in Stellenbosch to begin with. It must embrace all the private cellars, which would welcome visitors to this oldest wine district of the South African winelands.”

So, that’s what we did, together with Niel Joubert of Spier. And in 1972, the Stellenbosch Wine Route was formed.

All attempts at convincing the district’s road engineers to erect signboards, to help visitors find this potentially primary tourist attraction, fell on deaf ears.

“No”, was the answer. “We cannot allow commercial signboarding on a public road; it distracts the drivers. The next thing the potato farmers will want to establish a route, then the onion farmers. There will be no end to it!”

One of the arguments we presented to the roads department was that a well-informed driver posed a lesser threat than a hesitant driver.

Well, more than three decades later the “Stellenbosch Wine Route” has grown to such an extent that it has given birth to splinter wine routes, not to mention the many similar routes in the other wine regions. And it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Cape, after Table Mountain and Cape Point.

After being at the forefront of establishing the route – in 2005, Delheim is still the biggest among the 108 members in the Stellenbosch region.

How did we do it?

After years of frustration, Frans Malan finally persuaded the Provincial Administrator of the Cape to visit the still unsignposted wine route.

The administrator was very interested, but after a few fruitless efforts to orientate himself, he exclaimed: “You must erect some signboards, otherwise nobody – and definitely not a foreign tourist – will ever find you!”

Edited extract from The Memoirs of “Spatz Sperling” 19 July 2005 (unpublished manuscript)