Food & Drink

If You Love South African Wine, This Safari Is for You

An up-close experience with the Big Five — lions, leopards, elephants, African buffalo, and rhinoceroses — is one of the major draws to the 45,000-acre Singita Sabi Sand, a less-trafficked private game reserve that brushes against South African safari favorite Kruger National Park. But the wine cellar back at Singita Ebony Lodge, the luxury safari’s first property that opened 30 years ago, presents another unique, world-class experience.

One of the largest buyers of South African wine at auction, Singita — whose 16 lodges, tented camps, and villas span the countries of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Rwanda — sports a collection of nearly 200,000 bottles of South African wine, making it the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Nearly half of the wines are stored in a warehouse facility strategically placed near some of South Africa’s standout wineries in Stellenbosch, in the heart of the Cape Winelands. 

The collection includes a mix of exclusive releases, private reserve wines, limited single-vineyard selections, and rare auction wines. Comprising nearly 85 producers, 60% of the bottles are red, 30% are white, and 10% are a mix of fortified, dessert wines, and méthode cap classique (MCC), South African sparkling wine crafted in the traditional Champagne method.

“Many of our wines are carefully tasted, selected, and purchased — some on auction or as individual barrels — years before they ever arrive at your table,” says Kenny Nassen, Singita’s premier wine operations and admin manager, who notes that some bottles have been maturing between 15 to 20 years. 

Boplaas Family Vineyards Cape Tawny Reserve 2005, a fortified wine crafted from traditional, old-vine Portuguese varietals in the Klein Karoo town of Calitzdorp, is among the more exciting acquisitions purchased at auction. Guests will also find South African favorites like Swartland star Sadie Family Wines, Alheit Vineyards, and Mullineux Family Wines, plus “Chenin masters who fly below the radar,” as Nassen puts it, citing Swartland’s David & Nadia, Chris Williams’s Geographica Wines, and self-taught American winemaker Giny Povall’s Botanica Wines.

There’s also Chardonnay and Burgundian-style Pinot Noir from the Hemel-en-Aarde (Afrikaans for “Heaven and Earth”) Valley, whose location on the South Atlantic mirrors the Sonoma Coast of California’s cool, coastal climate, creating elegant wines with bright acidity that are more classic in profile than fruit-driven.

“From full-bodied and structured styles to thirst-quenching vibrant wines, we’ve got them all,” says Nassen. “For classics, there’s Kanonkop’s powerful and structured Black Label Pinotage, while Koen Roose’s Spioenkop Pinotage expresses the cool climate Elgin terroir — bright, fruited, and finely detailed.”

With a founding philosophy based on community, conservation, and sustainability, Singita has partnered with producers who champion conservation in the Cederberg Wilderness Area of the Karoo in the Western Cape, where vines sit more than 3,600 feet above sea level and are surrounded by ancient rock art and formations that tell the story of the Indigenous Khoisan people of southern Africa. 

As a way to make wine more accessible and introduce local communities to what’s being produced in their own country, Singita’s wine program is also helping to encourage and support Africa’s next generation of sommeliers through training on-site at lodges and wine producer-led experiences in the Cape Winelands. One of those sommeliers is Zimbabwe-born Alister Zengenene, a WSET level three-certified sommelier at Singita Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, who grew up in a family of non-drinkers and wasn’t exposed to wine until working in the restaurant industry in South Africa. 

“Our sommelier training program empowers local communities with valuable skills and career opportunities, enhancing the inclusivity of the wine industry across different sectors of Africa,” says Singita CEO Jo Bailes. “We have countless stories of our team members growing through the ranks from banakeli [personal waiter] to wine steward or sommelier. Through wine, their entire career shifts and is enhanced.”

At Ebony Lodge, Cape Town-born sommelier and winemaker Jamie-Leigh Overmeyer offers guests a crash course on a selection of the cellar’s 2,000 South African wines. 

Other standout bottles include Duncan Savage’s 2019 Savage White Blend, crafted from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Chenin Blanc from hand-selected parcels around the Western Cape, as well as Grangehurst 350 Celebration Vintage 2009 Pinotage, which nods to the first wine made in the Cape back in 1659. 

“By far, the most exciting aspect of South African wines is the incredible quality and dynamic nature of our wine industry — a new wave of innovative winemakers are embracing both Old World traditions and New World techniques, leading to fresher and diverse wines,” says Bailes.

“Winemakers are experimenting with different grape varieties, winemaking styles, and terroir, pushing the boundaries of what South African wine can be. Some of the most sought-after wines are coming from regions and vineyards no one had talked about 15 years ago.”

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