South African vineyard
South African vineyard: Good wine and breathtaking views (Cath Everett)

Q. When is a vineyard, not a vineyard?

A. When it's a wine farm in the Cape Winelands.

While that may sound just a tad abstruse, most of the European vineyards I've visited rarely deviate from their core business - which is, obviously enough, making and selling wine.

They'll lay on a sampling extravaganza and, for good measure, may also chuck in a tour of their cellars to at least partially demystify the dark art of viticulture. They might even sell you the odd accessory such as a turbocharged corkscrew or ornate wine-stopper, if you're lucky.

But they've got nothing on the South African wine farms. Really.

How many vineyards do you know where their restaurants offer everything from a tasty light lunch or scrumptious salad to mouth-watering three-course meals, complete with such delicacies as springbok, kudu or calamari legs? Unlike the UK, where it's just plain old calamari, full stop, you can also opt for calamari tubes.

But it doesn't stop there. Some wine farms also make up picnic baskets for you to sample al fresco as you potter around sumptuous gardens or traverse outdoor walking trails.

Others offer eco-tours so that you can commune with the local flora and fauna, while one or two have even got into the culture thing, hosting art galleries, live music venues and the odd theatre or two.

Even the entrepreneurial wineries of Australia and the Napa Valley don't go that far, as far as I'm aware - or didn't the last time that I was there anyway.

Sampling local produce

But in order not to waste all that stunning mountain scenery, a good few vineyards will also host weddings or other special events and offer plush accommodation to boot.

A smart idea in that you can sample their wares with impunity, without needing to worry about driving into a ditch - or off a cliff - later on, although there are a goodly number of tour operators to cart you around if you just want to make a suitably inebriated day of it.

So all in all, an impressive array of offerings, a few of which we decided to sample this weekend. First on the list for Saturday lunch was a place called Vergelegen (which means "situated far away" in Afrikaans) in Somerset West (about 20km from Stellenbosch).

This one's got a bit of history to it, in that it was built by Willem Adriaan van der Stel, governor of the Cape, on behalf of the Dutch East India Company from 1699, who took over the job from his dad, Simon, the founder of Stellenbosch (or Stel's bush) - my adopted home.

A pity that he lost it all due to graft, and most of the buildings on his estate ended up being destroyed in punishment.

Still, there are some fine Cape Dutch-style recreations as well as a bunch of lovely formal gardens. And it must be said that they do a mean kingklip nicoise, which is a cod-like fishy thing with olives and tomatoes and the like. Very nice.

Then on Sunday, we treated ourselves to market day at the Delavera Estate, followed by wine-tasting at the Delaire Graff Estate, which is my Beloved's favourite.

He reckons that the (deconstructed) food - ie you get it in bits and make it up yourself to your own taste, which sounds a bit odd to me - in their Indochine restaurant is to die-for and is enhanced beautifully by the most stunning views over the mountains.

Entrepreneurial approach

Anyway, I digress. The market days were apparently born out of the organic movement five or six years ago and initially focused purely on food before the wine farms decided to muscle in on the action too.

There were all kinds of stalls selling delectable little quiches, amazing cheeses (try mature gouda if you ever get the chance) and even dim sum. And to complement this abundance of flavours, there's also the inevitable wine-tasting opportunities.

So why have the wine farmers in South Africa taken such an entrepreneurial approach? I put forward that very question to a couple of the guys manning the stalls and they gave different answers.

One mentioned that wine-drinking hadn't caught on in South Africa to the same extent as in Europe - to where most of their produce is exported - pointing out that it was still predominantly a "beer and braii" culture.

So the idea of setting up restaurants and offering people a range of activities was to try and pull them in, raise awareness - and hopefully educate their palates.

And it appears to be working. It's certainly seems to have become quite a popular thing for people to visit a wine farm with family and friends for a nice spot of Sunday lunch.

But another stall-holder mentioned that it was really about generating additional revenue streams in what is basically a seasonal business. The tourist season, from September to March - and from December to February especially - is, unsurprisingly, the peak time for trading.

So offering additional attractions is not only about making hay while the sun shines, but also about giving people a reason to visit when they're not in holiday mode. Makes sense to me. And I'm more than happy to take them up on the offer.

Cath Everett is a resting journalist who has written about business, technology and HR issues for over 20 years. She recently moved from the UK to South Africa with her husband.

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