It is advisable to book tickets in advance. It’s also an idea to have a look at the two lines beforehand (Blue or Red) and decide which one suits your preferences. We opted for the Red Line.
It’s important to note that the Wine Tram is a slight misnomer. In fact most of the travelling between wine estates takes place in a 1920s-style bus, painted in the same British racing green livery as the tram. The tram itself – which is obviously a highlight – runs on the original track from 1904 between the Franschhoek station and Rickety Bridge wine estate, via Grande Provence wine estate. Rickety Bridge and Grande Provence, therefore, are visited on both the Blue and Red lines, but otherwise each Line takes in five other wine estates, the Red Line heading North and East of the town, while the Blue Line heads south.
The Wine Tram service operates on a ‘hop on and off’ timetable, so as long as you keep an eye on the time and stay in the know about when the next tram/bus comes along, you can stay at any wine farm as long as you like.
The restaurants on the wine estates are inevitably quite full round lunch time, so booking is again recommended. There is simply no way a person could get through a five hour wine tasting expedition without sustenance. Most of the wine estates offer cheese platters. We snacked on the Cheese and Charcuterie platter at Chamonix; delicious and really good value for money.
Delightfully, every single wine estate had at least one or two stand-out wines:
Leopard’s Leap - The Chardonnay-based Brut MCC is fresh, almost cidery, with caramel and nougat on the palate. The Chenin Blanc Grenache Blanc 2014 is a buttery, soft texture and a freshness that comes from the apricot, pear, and peach notes. Grand Vin 2012 is Bordeaux-style blend. It is a complex wine with coffee bean, nutmeg, and caramel overtones.
Dieu Donne – The wooded Chardonnay 2014 has vanilla and lemon notes. The Shiraz 2012 has spicy, new leather and dark cherry flavours on the nose and the palate, and should pair well with venison.
Chamonix – Feldspar Pinot Noir 2013 is medium bodied, fruity with strong notes of cherries on the palate. The Troica Reserve 2013 is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. It has notes of vanilla, blackberries and a spicy finish that makes this a full-bodied, well-rounded wine.
Rickety Bridge – The Rickety Bridge Chardonnay 2014 has notes of tropical fruit, some acidity and a lovely creamy finish. The Rickety Bridge Pinotage 2014 also has a slight acidity from the plum notes on the palate. However, it still gets a plums-up from me.
Grande Provence – The four star Platter-rated Chardonnay 2013 is creamy, with citrus and almond notes on the palate. The Pinot Noir 2013 has a taste of strawberries and red cherries, while the Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 has notes of spicy black pepper on the palate. The vines for the Cabernet Sauvignon grow next to a eucalyptus grove which gives it a pleasing, distinctive mintiness.
The Franschhoek Wine Tram is a lot of fun and the conductors are a treat - I definitely recommend making a day of it. JJ kept us well-informed and well looked-after throughout the day. During the short but circuitous route, a recording gives the history of Franschhoek, though we only heard about the predicament of the French Huguenots before it was switched off and replaced with info-snippets about the upcoming wine estate.
Spending at least an hour at each estate allows ample time to sample the wines, snack, rehydrate and ask as many questions as you like. The brisk fresh air on the ride between the estates also helps to clear your head, if not quite your palate. Most importantly, if you do decide to try the Franschhoek Wine Tram in the winter, remember to dress warm.