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South Africa.

This chapter presents the wine regions of South Africa, their climates, and the types of wine that they create. Additionally, it discusses the history of winemaking in the country and the dramatic changes that have taken place since the end of apartheid, along with the emerging role of wines in the global market.



The country of South Africa possesses all of the attributes necessary for a wine-producing nation: a long history of grape growing and winemaking, a temperate Mediterranean-like climate along its southwestern edge, as well as many historical ties with wine-consuming nations in Europe. However, its potential was not realized until recently because of international boycotts in response to South Africa's policy of apartheid. The embargo hindered the modernization of the wine industry that was taking place in the rest of the world and cut it off from the export market that was desperately needed. With the demise of the apartheid regime and lifting of international sanctions in the early 1990s, there began a period of many far-reaching changes in the wine industry as well as the rest of the country. In the time since then there has been a massive redevelopment in vineyards and wineries with a new focus on making better wines and expanding sales to other countries. These efforts have been successful and today South Africa is ranked seventh in the world for production of wine and ninth in the world for exports.


South Africa is unusual in that it is able to trace the origins of its wine industry back to day one. Such precise information is thanks to Jan van Riebeeck, the first governor of the Dutch settlement at the Cape, who was meticulous in keeping a diary during his tenure. The region known today as the Western Cape is where the majority of South Africa's present-day vineyards are still grown. So much so that the terms Cape and South Africa are almost interchangeable when talking about the country's wines.

The Cape was a logical place to start wine growing in South Africa for two reasons. First, it has a Mediterranean climate; the cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers provide ideal conditions for producing quality wine grapes. Second, the Cape of Good Hope was also conveniently located halfway between Holland and the Dutch East Indies, a route plied by the Dutch East India Company in its profitable spice business. The suitable location, as well as the verdant growth noted by those who had landed there, encouraged the Company to start a settlement in what is today Cape Town at the foot of Table Mountain (Figure 16.1). This stopover would be used as a repair station for the Company's ships and as a place for growing crops to provide provisions for the ships' crews.

Jan van Riebeeck, previously a ship's surgeon, was chosen to head the expedition and establish the settlement at Cape Town. Commander van Riebeeck and the other members of the expedition arrived in Table Bay on April 6, 1652. At van Riebeeck's request, the first batch of vine cuttings arrived in 1654 but none survived. A second delivery provided results that were more positive. The vines were planted alongside the vegetables in the company gardens, a plot today located in the heart of Cape Town. On Sunday, February 2, 1659, van Riebeeck recorded in his diary: "Today, God be praised, wine pressed for the first time from the Cape grapes" (Leipoldt, 2004). The variety he used is known in South Africa as Muscadel, the grape known elsewhere as Muscat Blanc or Muscat Canelli.


If Jan van Riebeeck was the Cape's first winemaker, another governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, is regarded as the father of wine growing in South Africa. He was also the creator of what was to become the country's first internationally recognized wine. Van der Stel became governor in 1679, the same year he founded the town of Stellenbosch (STEL-un-bosh), some 28 miles (45 km) east of Cape Town. Today, the area surrounding Stellenbosch is regarded as the hub of the Cape wine industry (Figure 16.2). It boasts the greatest number of wineries of any of the Cape's wine regions and has a reputation for producing many of South Africa's most renowned red wines.

Simon van der Stel left another legacy that was to bring the Cape international acclaim. In 1685 he was granted land for a farm he called Constantia. Lying south of Cape Town on the slopes of the Peninsula Mountain chain, the region proved ideal for growing vines. The soils are deep and well drained; winter rainfall is plentiful, and in summer, the southeasterly wind blowing off nearby False Bay keeps things cool. Among the wines van der Stel made was a sweet liqueur type in both white and red versions. Muscadel, the variety mentioned by van Riebeeck, is again suggested as one of the grapes used. This fragrant, unfortified sweet wine was the forerunner of the Constantia dessert wine that Hendrik Cloete bottled in the late eighteenth century. Constantia found fame throughout the world and among its celebrated admirers were Frederick the Great of Prussia, British royalty, and Napoleon as well as the literary greats Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

The Dutch, not primarily known for their knowledge of wine growing, might have introduced vines to the Cape but a greater depth of experience became available with the arrival of the French Huguenots (HUE-ga-nots) in 1688. The protestant Huguenots were forced to flee from their homeland after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which had guaranteed them religious tolerance. Many of these refugees came from the south of France, where some had been involved with the production of wine; even those who had no firsthand knowledge were familiar with the culture of wine. The area known as Franschhoek, or French Quarter, is indelibly associated with these French immigrants, and many of their descendants are still well-known names in the wine industry.


The industry grew and reached a pinnacle of prosperity toward the beginning of the 1800s. By then, the English had taken over at the Cape and the Napoleonic Wars cut off French exports to England, opening the way for Cape wine; this was a boom time for the Cape farmers. However, it was not to last long and by the 1860s the English had patched up their relationship with the French, and reduction in tariffs on French wines saw imports of Cape wines fall dramatically. Further complicating the lives of vintners in the 1800s was the introduction of the fungus powdery mildew, also known as oidium, as well as phylloxera. By the mid-1800s powdery mildew was widespread, and by the 1880s phylloxera was devastating Cape vineyards with the same ruthlessness the root louse had shown in France. Fortunately, by the end of the century these problems could be dealt with by using sulfur dust to prevent mildew, and grafting with resistant rootstocks to control phylloxera.

The Twentieth Century to Today

The start of the twentieth century was marked by the problem of overproduction; a grape grower's success was then measured by high yields. By 1918 there were almost 87 million vines producing some 14.3 million gallons (56 million liters) of wine, most of which could find no buyers (Hughes, Hands, and Kench, 1988). This situation led, with the government's backing, to the establishment in 1918 of the giant ruling cooperative called the Ko-operatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereniging (South African Cooperative Winegrowers), or the KWV, as it is more commonly known. Its objective was to stabilize the price of wine and brandy produced by its members and to promote the sale of their products. This body became both player and industry regulator. In 1957 a quota system was introduced that determined where vines could be planted; quantity rather than quality was an important factor. The KWV also controlled importation and quarantine of vine material. This helped prevent the introduction of new grapevine pests and diseases but proved a hindrance to growers wishing to bring in new clones or varieties. In 2002 KWV converted from a grower-owned cooperative to a publicly traded company.

If the South African wine industry was held back by the focus on cooperatives and quantity rather than quality, the situation was made even worse with the establishment of trade sanctions against apartheid. First beginning in the 1960s, the boycotts increasingly had an effect on the country's economy as more and more nations signed on. During this period, South African wine was banned and its citizens unwelcome in many countries. Throughout this repressive regime, South African producers had to look to the local market for sales, and their knowledge of winemaking trends was restricted, as travel opportunities were limited. The result was a wine industry that was isolated from the rest of the world and one that focused on making inexpensive wine of average quality for a small domestic market.

In the early 1990s international pressure helped bring political reform to the government with a relaxation of apartheid laws and release of political prisoners like Nelson Mandela. Once democracy was established, with the first democratic elections held in 1994, momentum for South Africa's reentry into the international arena grew rapidly and South African wines were officially welcomed back into the international fold when Nelson Mandela, the country's first democratically elected president, endorsed them and toasted his 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Cape wine (Figure 16.3).

The surge of interest in South African wine was perhaps most immediately measured through the growth in exports. In 1991, 5.7 million gallons (23 million liters) of South African wine left the country. By 2008 that annual figure had risen to 108.5 million gallons (411 million liters) (South African Wine Industry Information & Systems [SAWIS], 2009). While the United Kingdom remains the most important market in terms of number of cases sold, the United States is gaining ground and now fills sixth place (SAWIS, 2009). Behind these figures lay many reasons for this remarkable growth that go beyond the demise of apartheid and lifting of sanctions. The growth was also fueled by the growth in the international wine market, a favorable exchange rate, and the advances made in South African grape-growing and winemaking practices. Additionally, South Africa's historical links with European countries came into play. Many South Africans have family ties in the United Kingdom, Holland, Germany, and other countries, which provides a ready market for the wines and encourages the growth in tourism.


Thanks to the international interest and increased sales, South Africa has seen an explosion of privately owned wineries whose proprietors are focused on producing quality wines that are unique and speak of their South African origin. These small producers try to differentiate themselves from the large commercial brands made at grower cooperative wineries. In South Africa, privately owned wineries are usually referred to as private cellars and grower cooperatives are called producer cellars. There have also been big shifts in grape varieties planted and opening up of regions where wine grapes had not been grown before. Prior to 1992, the quota system restricted where vines could be grown, the authorities then focusing more on higher yields rather than higher quality. When it was dropped, new wineries were established increasing in number from 141 in 1991 to 504 in 2008 (SAWIS, 2009). The vast majority of this new growth has been in the Western Cape Geographical Unit, or as it is more commonly known, "the Cape." This scenically beautiful region has reliable weather during the growing season, good soils, and many mesoclimates that are suitable for a wide variety of wine styles. Many foreigners, including some high-profile winemakers from Europe and the United States, have also recognized the Cape's wine potential and have begun to do business in the region bringing with them their expertise as well as their capital.

Despite this rush of new wineries, 79 percent of the annual crush is still produced by South Africa's 58 cooperatives (SAWIS, 2009). As noted previously, cooperatives (producer cellars) are wineries owned jointly by the grape-grower members, who lower their expenses by pooling their winemaking and marketing costs. Here the crop is vinified at one cellar and while small quantities of the wine may be bottled under that cellar's own label, the majority is usually sold in bulk to larger wine merchants for blending and bottling.

The increased demand for wine also increased wine grape vineyard acreage from 207,560 acres (84,000 hectares) in 1994 to 247,000 acres (100,200 hectares) in 2004 (SAWIS, 2005). Since then the amount of new vineyard land being established has leveled off. Vineyard expansion appears limited compared with countries such as Australia or Chile because many vines were uprooted either because they were lesser varieties, such as Palomino, Kanaan, or Cape Riesling (an obscure variety not related to Riesling that is called Crouchen in France), or because they were planted under the wrong conditions. Replanting on better sites and with internationally recognized grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Shiraz (Syrah is generally called Shiraz in South Africa) as well as with other Bordeaux and Rhone varieties, has brought the country into line with international markets. Such changes also had the effect of shifting the imbalance between white and red varieties from 84.1 percent in favor of whites in 1991 to a more equitable 54 percent by 2004 (SAWIS, 2005). However, only in the districts of Paarl and Stellenbosch do red varieties outnumber whites.


Another factor that influences vineyard development is that the great majority of Cape vineyards are planted within a territory known as the Cape Floral Kingdom. This region is one of the smallest and richest plant kingdoms on earth with many different indigenous plant species and it is internationally recognized as a World Heritage Site (Figure 16.4). Conservation is critical, yet the realignment of vineyards to sites designated for quality rather than quantity has created concerns that some of the most vulnerable natural habitat will be targeted for vineyard expansion. To address these concerns the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative, a partnership between environmental bodies and the wine industry, was set up in 2004. Its aim is to minimize the further loss of threatened natural habitat and to contribute to sustainable wine-producing practices, through the adoption of biodiversity guidelines by the South African wine industry. Guidelines and minimum standards for environmentally friendly practices, from vineyard to cellar to packaging, had already been introduced through the Integrated Production of Wine, a system introduced via an Act of Parliament in 1998.

If exports have shown a healthy increase, sales at home have been less promising; per capita consumption has fallen from 2.31 gallons (9.06 liters) per annum in 1991 to 1.95 gallons (7.34 liters) per annum in 2008 (SAWIS, 2009). Only a small sector of South Africa's 44 million people drink wine, for the vast majority of the black South African population, wine is not yet a beverage of choice, although interest is growing. This is compounded by the fact there is still little racial representation in the wine industry. The Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry (BAWSI) is driving the change in the status quo. This body aims to not only empower its members to enable them to become owners in the industry but also help with the social advancement of people on farms and implementation of fair labor practices. Its cause is aided by the first few young black South African viticulture and enology graduates from Stellenbosch University who are now working in various Cape cellars.


The Cape's vineyards lie roughly at a latitude of between 31[degrees] and 35[degrees] south stretching some 250 miles (400 km) along the coastal belt north of Cape Town and a similar distance along the coast to the east. Farther north, around 500 miles (800 km) from Cape Town, vines are also grown along the banks of the Orange River. While wine and grape concentrate for fruit juices are produced in this summer rainfall region, the major grape variety, Sultana, is used for making raisins. Grapes in both areas are harvested any time between January and the end of March or early April. Outside of the Cape and Orange River regions there are a scattering of small vineyards located in the eastern half of the country.

Within the Western Cape's Mediterranean climate zone, there is considerable variation in rainfall, temperature, and wind, as well as in soils and topography. Although there is generally a winter rainfall season lasting from approximately May to September, annual precipitation varies greatly within the Western Cape. Additionally there are also periods of drought that can last as long as several years, and irrigation is widely used.

On-shore summer breezes cool the vineyards located close to both the south and west coasts, while inland areas tend to be warmer and drier. Vineyards are also located in the cooler growing conditions that are found on higher ground in the mountains that are spread around the Western Cape. This diversity of terroir provides a number of climates that are suited to a wide spectrum of grape varieties.

South Africa's system of appellations is called the Wine of Origin (WO) Scheme. First implemented in 1973, it came about when the KWV realized that to export to Europe, it was necessary to fall in line with the European Economic Community (now European Union) appellation requirements. The appellations were broadly divided into four levels of decreasing size: geographical unit, region, district, and ward. There are three geographical units: Western Cape, Northern Cape, and KwaZulu Natal. By far the most important of these is the Western Cape, which holds the vast majority of the country's wine grape vineyards. While each of the regions contains districts and wards, not all districts and wards fall within a region; much of this is due to areas opening up where vines have never before been grown.

There are four major regions: Olifants River, Klein Karoo, Breede River Valley, and the Coastal Region, Boberg, all of which lie within the Western Cape geographical unit. A fifth region, Boberg, is used to designate fortified wines produced from the districts of Paarl and Tulbah. The district is a smaller area of origin; these were originally drawn up along geopolitical boundaries and, among the current 21, they include such well-known places as Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Robertson. Twenty of the districts are in the boundaries of the Western Cape and one is in the Northern Cape. Delimitation of the ward, smaller than either the region or district, takes into account more physical and climatic similarities, a sense of terroir, as well as the sense of community among the people within the defined area. There are 61 wards in the Western Cape and three are in the Northern Cape. Among the more familiar ward names are Constantia, Franschhoek Valley, and Durbanville.

Beyond the level of appellation, the Wine of Origin Scheme recognizes the individual vineyard identifiers of estate wine and, most recently, the single vineyard wine. An estate wine has to be grown, made, and bottled on a single production unit (farm with vineyards and cellar) registered for this purpose. Likewise, single vineyard wines have to come from a registered unit, limited to a maximum of 14.5 acres (6 hectares) and from one grape variety only. Where applicable, these will be indicated on the label, the Wine of Origin designation being indicated by the letters WO as well as the words Wine of Origin. Recent legislation has opened the way for wines made from more than one official origin to state the various sources on the label. Claims for vintage or variety, whether locally or for export, require a wine to contain a minimum of 85 percent for both.


Olifants River Region

This area is home to the most northern vineyards in the Western Cape. Inland, it is hot and dry, but with irrigation water readily available from the Olifants River, high yields are easily achievable. This led to the region to be associated with poor-quality, bulk wines. With the opening up of export markets, better-quality varieties have been planted; vines have also moved up from the fertile valley floors to mountain slopes. Viticultural practices have been upgraded, resulting in farmers being compensated based on overall fruit quality rather than simply on sugar levels. These improvements have encouraged lower yields and better-quality grapes. The climate is conducive to organic viticulture and several farmers are now taking this approach. In the cellars, winemakers have learned to craft consumer-friendly, early-drinking wines. Chenin Blanc and Colombard still hold sway but there are also considerable plantings of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

There are some areas with cooler terroirs within the region, notably the newly established ward of Bamboes Bay fronts directly on to the Atlantic. The vineyards, lying virtually on the beach, are cooled by sea breezes brought up from the coast. To the south and about 50 miles (80 km) inland, the vineyards in the Cederberg Ward lies at an altitude of 3,614 feet (1,100 m) up in the Cederberg Mountains. Both of these diverse spots have the ability to produce superior Sauvignon Blanc.

Klein Karoo (Little Karoo) Region

This region, the farthest east from Cape Town, is also the driest. Generally speaking, it is a semidesert, ideal for ostrich breeding, for which the region is renowned, but making irrigation essential for growing vines and limiting their spread. Apart from limited water, birds of the smaller flying kind, are the main problem the farmers of Klein Karoo. The grapes ripen when there is little other food available for the birds and the damage they can cause has led some farmers to net their vines (an example is Figure 14.7 on page 469). Nevertheless, a wide range of grape varieties are grown here, many on an experimental basis.

Where the region has made its mark is with fortified wines, Port styles in particular. These are wines made in the same way as Portuguese Port but South Africa's trade agreement with the European Union means the word Port was phased out on export markets in 2007 and will be locally by 2014. The town of Calitzdorp is affectionately known as the Port capital of South Africa (though excellent examples are also made in Stellenbosch and Paarl). The area has climatic similarities with Portugal's Douro Valley, and most of the wineries make one or more Port-style wines, which are described as Cape Ruby, Cape Vintage, and Cape Tawny, with the Portuguese terms plus the Cape identifying origin on the label.

As in other regions, there are exceptions to the general climate rule. The ward of Tradouw sits at the top of the pass that bears the same name, looking straight out to the Indian Ocean, some 28 miles (45 km) to the south. The vines thus enjoy an unhindered and beneficial cooling influence, allowing for the production of elegant Bordeaux-style blends and Chardonnay. Other cooler localities are also being explored.

Breede River Valley

An inland region, where the two main districts, Worcester and Robertson, track the Breede River (Wide River) along its course from the Witzenberg Mountains down to the Indian Ocean. Summer is a long, hot season with occasional flash downpours. Afternoon breezes coming up the Breede River from the sea temper the heat; this, together with the limestone soils, helps maintain good acid levels in the grapes. With its low average annual rainfall of around 10.6 inches (27 cm), irrigation is also essential to the region's success. When quantity was esteemed over quality, the warm Worcester vineyards were mainly planted on the fertile, alluvial soils next to the river. The trend today is toward less vigorous hillside sites, though irrigation remains essential. Worcester has about 9 percent of the nation's wine grapes and 70 percent of the acreage is planted to white varieties. Chenin Blanc and Colombard for brandy making head the varietal list but Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz are gaining ground. Apart from brandy, Worcester's main output from the many cooperatives is bulk wine for the negociant trade.


Downstream in Robertson, white grapes are also predominate with Chardonnay and Colombard taking the top positions (Figure 16.6). Initially, the grape was recognized for producing a distinctive table wine but, increasingly, it is being transformed into fine sparkling wines made in the traditional methode champenoise. South African producers have adopted the name Methode Cap Classique for these wines, since the term Champagne is not permitted. Underpinning this affinity with Chardonnay and sparkling wines are the limestone soils, unusual in the Cape. Like its upstream neighbor, Robertson early on proved ideal brandy making country; Chenin Blanc and Colombard with Chardonnay, today covering nearly half of the area's vineyards, are a legacy of this history. Nevertheless, since 1995 the amount of vineyard land devoted to red varieties has increased dramatically. The area also has a reputation for producing superior fortified dessert wines made from Muscat.

Coastal Region

The Coastal Region itself is rarely mentioned, simply because of the wealth of well-known, quality districts and wards within its boundaries. Names such as Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, Constantia, and even Durbanville and Swartland have much greater recognition factor than the term Coastal does.


Stellenbosch enjoys excellent climatic conditions for wine grapes and is the heart of the South African wine industry (Figure 16.7). The University of Stellenbosch and Elsenburg Agricultural College, both offering courses in viticulture and enology, are based here, as is the agricultural research center, Nietvoorbij. The town is also home to Distell, South Africa's largest wine and spirits producer. The district is also home to the greatest number of private cellars found anywhere in the Cape. With quality the focus of the majority producers and its potential for fine wine has drawn in many international investors.

Stellenbosch, with 17 percent of the national vineyard (SAWIS, 2009), covers an area surrounded by an amphitheater of mountains and hills with frontage on False Bay. In summer, the southeasterly wind, known as the Cape Doctor, blows off the sea, cooling the vines and helping prevent bunch rot and mildew. Soils and topography are varied, allowing for a wide spectrum of varieties to thrive and produce a whole range of wine styles from Cap Classique sparkling to Vintage Port style.

This diversity is illustrated through the district's five wards. Simonsberg-Stellenbosch is the farthest from the sea and known for its full, rich reds. Bottelary, with many northwest-facing slopes, also favors fuller-bodied red wines such as Shiraz. On the top of the Bottelary Hills, with their unhindered exposure to False Bay and its cooling influence, Sauvignon Blanc is making its mark. In Devon Valley, with its varied terroirs, allows for both Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to shine. Cabernet Sauvignon also performs well in the Jonkershoek Valley Ward. There are fewer producers in the Papegaaiberg (Parrot Mountain) Ward, so among the mix of white and red varieties, no one variety stands out.

Although the area's reputation has been built on red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, site-sensitive varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay now produce excellent results. In this densely planted area, lesser common varieties like Viognier, Grenache, Mourvedre, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and even Zinfandel are finding a foothold.



The district of Paarl (PARL), which is Afrikaans for Pearl, borders on Stellenbosch to the north and, although part of the Coastal Region, is landlocked and generally warm. It has almost as many vineyard acres as Stellenbosch, with almost 17 percent of the nation's vineyards. It is home to some of South Africa's largest wineries as well as many of its smallest. Running roughly southeast to northwest, mountains are again a defining feature in this district (Figure 16.8). At the southern end, the Franschhoek Peaks tower above the long, narrow Franschhoek Valley, one of the earliest and best-known wards. The Berg River, which begins in these mountains, runs along the valley floor, through the town of Paarl itself, and eventually out into the Atlantic Ocean; en route it provides water for irrigation to those vineyards planted along its banks. In Franschhoek, the vineyards on the valley floor include some century-old Semillon vines. Away from the river, higher up on the mountain slopes, new vineyards are being put in where it is cooler and the vines grow less vigorously.

Depending on slope and aspect, anything from fine sparkling wine to robust reds can perform well here. There are even spots where Pinot Noir can produce enjoyable, if not great, wines. If summer temperatures reaching well into the 90s [degrees]F (30s [degrees]C) make this seem unlikely, the southeasterly wind again comes to the rescue as it pours over the mountain pass above the town, beneficially cooling the higher vineyards. Traditionally, white varieties have dominated plantings in an area where vines have always had strong competition from fruit orchards. Today reds make up 57 percent of the plantings in this picturesque valley, which is renowned for having some of the best restaurants in the wine country. Farther north, on the north face of Simonsberg Peak, is the Ward of Simonsberg-Paarl. The gentle slopes are well exposed and characterized by deep soils, ideal for the red varieties planted on the lower ground, the whites planted higher up to catch any cool breeze.


Around the town of Paarl and to the north there is little relief from the summer heat and rainfall decreases. Here the wines of the Ward of Wellington reflect their warm conditions and are mainly reds. Shiraz, along with its fellow Rhone varieties Mourvedre and Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinotage, are popular as both varietal wines and blends. Whites, able to hold their own in a richer style, also do well, Viognier, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc among them. In fact, Chenin Blanc remains widely planted in Wellington, primarily for making Sherry, which is still produced by the large wineries of KWV and Monis. Both wineries maintain soleras, although these are much smaller than even a decade ago.


The Tulbagh District is located just over the northwestern boundary of Paarl. It is framed by peaks that tower above the Breede River, which flows out on its southeastern corner en route to Worcester and Robertson. This district is very warm in summer, but snow is a common occurrence on the higher peaks in winter. Soils here feature many large boulders among the river sand. Over the past decade, Tulbagh has seen a great deal of new investment with private wineries starting up all over the valley. White varieties still account for most of the vines, but the potential for quality reds is already evident.


Swartland, the "blackland," is named for the indigenous dark, bushlike renosterveld vegetation that dots the tops of the sweeping hills characterizing this district (Figure 16.9). As part of the major grain growing area of the Western Cape, golden wheat stretching to the horizon is the Swartland's very visible trademark with vines clustered close to the hilltops. The soils here are red and very deep, with good water retention properties. Because of this, in the past there was little irrigation used. Today it is an option installed by most new vineyards. Individual farm dams, replenished by the winter rains, are the main source of water for irrigation. This warm sunny area produces big-bodied red wines. Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant red variety, but the Swartland is fast getting a reputation for being prime Shiraz country, with other Rhone varieties, such as Grenache, Mourvedre, and Viognier as complexing partners.


A recently established district at the southern end of the Swartland, closer to the Atlantic Ocean, Darling has primarily the same soil types and weather conditions as the Swartland district that surrounds it. However, on its western edge, it is near to the Atlantic coastline, making it cooler. Wineries around Swartland and Darling used to be composed mainly of cooperatives. Today, as there is in the rest of the Cape's wine regions, many new privately owned wineries are being started.



The district of Tygerberg is not generally as well known as the ward of Durbanville that lies within it. This ward borders the outer reaches of Cape Town's northern suburbs where its vineyards are always under pressure from property developers. The Tygerberg Hills provide vines with both exposure and shelter, as do the cooling effects of the breezes and mists from the nearby Atlantic on summer afternoons. With unhindered exposure to False Bay, some distance away to the southeast, Durbanville receives some beneficial cooling effect from the famous Cape Doctor. Over the past 8 to 10 years, Sauvignon Blanc has grown in stature and quality and is by far the most planted white variety.


Constantia has the same threat from urbanization as Durbanville. Fortunately, the mountain slopes Simon van der Stel recognized 320 years ago as being ideal for growing great wine continue to have outstanding vineyards. Although the taxes for such prime real estate do place a burden on the farmers. Until recently there were just a few wineries, three of them forming part of van der Stel's original land grant. Now a few more are opening up, their vineyards scaling even greater heights along the mountain chain. All are privately owned, small, and quality driven. Modern-day Constantia's forte is white varieties in general, Sauvignon Blanc in particular, but also Semillon and Riesling; for the reds, Merlot is showing promise on the lower, warmer slopes. Here the Klein Constantia Estate (Figure 16.10) has recreated the famed eighteenth-century Constantia dessert wine that it calls Vin de Constance.

Overberg, Walker Bay, and Cape Agulhas

These three districts, following the coast east from Cape Town, cover some of the Cape's newest wine territory, developed from virgin ground since the repeal of the quota system in 1992. Their importance exceeds the limited area under vine, around 3,374 acres (1,400 hectares) between the three districts (SAWIS, 2004). In these districts, the summer wind moderates temperatures but also blows in a cloud cover that carries with it the likelihood of rain. With rot an ever-present threat, meticulous viticultural practices are vital. All three are near the sea, so it might appear strange that none fall into the Coastal Region. This is one of the idiosyncrasies of the Wine of Origin Scheme, possibly because the majority of vineyards have been developed since the WO Scheme was implemented.


The Overberg is best known for its one ward, Elgin, internationally recognized for its apple orchards. As the fruit market fortunes have fluctuated, vines have gained a small foothold. Early results have proved so promising, that more vineyards are being established by some of the Cape's most highly regarded winegrowers. As in other cool areas, Sauvignon Blanc is the focus of attention, but other cool-climate varieties such as Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Noir along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, and Chardonnay are all sharing in Elgin's newfound popularity. The whole area lies on a plateau, roughly 990 to 2,950 feet (300 to 900 m) above sea level, and the soils feature the shale, granite, and sandstone that are found in many other areas.

Walker Bay, to the south and east of Overberg, has a more temperate climate, but still is exposed to the unwanted rain that the southeasterly summer wind can bring. Here the Burgundy varieties Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do very well. Today, the six or so small cellars in the valley (not yet a ward, but this is under consideration) all produce respectable to very good examples of Pinot Noir. Shiraz is popular as it is elsewhere along with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc are leading white varieties.

Cape Agulhas is a new district at the southernmost point in Africa. Vines were first established here as recently as the end of the 1990s but since then the growth in new vineyard land has been steady. Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz are again the favored varieties. The area around Cape Agulhas is very exposed and flat; the vines are thus at risk from wind, which can break the young shoots. As with is two neighbors rot from the cool, sometimes damp, summer conditions is also a threat. At present, most grapes are vinified outside the district.



Biodiversity and Wine Initiative

Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry (BAWSI)

Cape Doctor

Cape Floral Kingdom


Integrated Production of Wine


Ko-operatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereniging (KWV)

Methode Cap Classique



private cellars

producer cellars

Wine of Origin (WO) Scheme


Since democratization and the dropping of sanctions, South Africa has adapted to the global requirements of the international wine market remarkably quickly. With a weak currency, exports soared; the return of a stronger Rand affected many companies. This spurred them to greater efficiency, with the result that exports continue to be strong foreign currency earners for the country. Today efforts are being made to develop the domestic market for wine to complement the export trade. Nevertheless, even after 16 years, the industry continues to evolve. New areas and varieties are still being explored and more than half of the vineyards were planted since the early 1990s. Better plant material and yet more quality varieties are required to allow South Africa to show its potential through its many and diverse mesoclimates. The young generation of viticulturists, winemakers, marketers, and researchers, who have not known the restrictive practices of the previous era, are well traveled and able to help the country realize this potential in the future.


1. What are some of the main changes in the South African wine industry since the dismantling of the apartheid regime?

2. Why can such a range of grape varieties be grown across the Cape vineyards?

3. Outline the conditions that limit production in South Africa.

4. What were the conditions that led to the establishment of the KWV?


1. Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and --.

A. Syrah

B. Concord

C. Cinsault

D. Grenache

2. Which immigrants were instrumental in bringing winemaking to South Africa?

A. Portuguese and British

B. Spanish and Italian

C. Germans and Americans

D. Dutch and French

3. South Africa's system of appellations is called --.

A. Wine of Origin (WO) Scheme

B. South Africa Viticultural Area (SAVA)

C. South African Appellation of Origen (SAAO)

D. African Viticultural Area (AVA)

4. The vast majority of South Africa's vineyards are located in the region known as the --.

A. Breede River Valley

B. Paarl

C. Orange River

D. Western Cape

Reading a South African Wine Label

Front Label

"Kumkani"- Brand Name:

English, Afrikaans, and African names are all used on South African wines. Provided they are not already a registered trademark, most names are acceptable.

"Lanner Hill"- Single Vineyard: Single vineyards have to be registered, not more than 14.5 acres (6 hectares), and from one grape variety only.

Wine Notes: Not obligatory, but the information in this case must be factual and be approved by the Wine & Spirit Board.

Vintage: The year in which the grapes were harvested. A minimum of 85 percent of the contents must come from the year declared on the label.

Sauvignon Blanc Grape Variety: A single varietal wine must contain a minimum of 85 percent of that grape. Only certain grape varieties are permitted under the Wine of Origin Scheme.

Wine of South Africa: Country of origin. Here not a compulsory item, as it appears without the other compulsory information.

Certification Sticker: Certification confirms all the legal requirements under the Wine of Origin Scheme have been met and the wine has been approved by the Wine and Spirit Board. The numbers enable the wine to be tracked right back to the vineyard. This is the small rectangular white label with numbers on it, stuck on the neck of the bottle.

Reading a South African Wine Label European Export Back Label

Wine Notes: Explanations of the meaning of foreign names helps the consumer have a better understanding of why the wine was given this particular name.

Wine of Origin: Appellation, the demarcated area, in this case a ward Groenekloof, where the wine was grown.

Product of South Africa *: Compulsory Country of Origin. Words with the same meaning may be substituted.

Contains Sulfites *: Compulsory; must be indicated on all wine filled/bottled or sold after November 25, 2005. The spelling must be in the language stipulated by the destination market. Only required if the total sulfur level is more than 10 milligrams per liter.

ALC-14.5% by Vol *: Compulsory; in the United States, the given figure may differ by not more than 1.5 percent if the alcohol is less than 14 percent, over 14 percent a difference of 1 percent is permitted; in the EU a difference of 0.5 percent is permitted; and locally, in South Africa, the alcohol level on the label may vary by 1 percent in the actual wine.

Produced and Bottled: Omnia Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa*, Winery identification. Either the A number or name and address is required for the local market. At present these may be replaced by the importer's details on wine for export, but from 2007 onward, the same rules that apply to South Africa will apply to exports.

A581: The A code numbers enable identification of the producer of the wine, if this information isn't provided on the label. The list of A numbers is held by the Liquor Products Division of the Department of Agriculture.

Compulsory items as indicated by an asterisk above have to appear "within the same field of vision on one or more labels of a container," that is, either front or back labels, or, if it's a wrap-around label, on one end of that label.

Reading a South African Wine Label

United States Export Back Label

Government Warning: A requirement for wines exported to the U.S. market.


Of the many wine varieties growing in the Cape's vineyards, Chenin Blanc and Pinotage are of particular significance to South African winemakers. Chenin Blanc, which is also called Steen in South Africa, for many decades has been the most planted variety in the country. Even today, it heads the list, accounting for nearly 19 percent of vineyard area, although this is a dramatic decrease from its 31.2 percent share back in the early 1990s (SAWIS, 2005). Wine producers' appreciation of Chenin Blanc originally stemmed from the grape's excellent yields and versatility, it can be turned into anything from a quality sparkling wine to a fortified jerepigo (very sweet, unfermented grape juice fortified with grape spirit), and everything in between. Chenin Blanc is also used for the production of brandy.

Brandy has always been an important grape-based product and, as with table wine, the quality has been improving over recent years. Today about 8 percent of the wine that is made in South Africa is distilled in the traditional method that is used in Cognac. Such wine will be batch distilled twice in a pot still before undergoing a minimum of three years' aging in small oak casks. South Africa also boasts the world's largest potstill distillery; the KWV's Worcester premises house 120 potstills under one roof. Interest in brandy is not exclusive to the large spirits companies; there are also around 20 smaller privately owned cellars that produce pure potstill brandy.


Brandy aside, Chenin Blanc devotees' main focus is to elevate the grape to the same noble status and quality it enjoys in the Loire. Decent, everyday drinking wines with good fruit and fresh acid balance have always been produced, but they tend to mature quickly and lose their fruity appeal before the following harvest. Through the founding of the Chenin Blanc Association in 1999, the members intended to identify the best vineyards, some of them very old by South African standards, and ensure they were retained. The Association also categorized Chenin Blanc into six different styles from fresh and fruity, to rich and wooded, with the goal of giving the variety better focus and improving its image in consumers' eyes.

The same can be said about South Africa's own variety, Pinotage (pee-no-TAHJ) (Figure 16.5). In 1924, Professor Abraham Perold bred this red variety, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, a red grape from the Rhone region of France. At that time Cinsault was also known as Hermitage in South Africa, hence the name Pinotage. Some 35 years later, this unlikely crossing provided the champion red wine at the Cape Wine show and in 1961 the first Pinotage appeared on the market. Like Chenin Blanc, it is a very versatile performer, slipping as easily into the role of sparkling wine made in the traditional methode champenoise, as it does into fortified dessert wines. Naturally, it held some novelty value for foreign consumers when South Africa reentered the global market in the 1990s. To build on this interest the Pinotage Association was formed, its agenda being to research, improve wine quality, and promote Pinotage.

The enthusiasm with which Pinotage was planted, especially after lifting of sanctions, failed to take into account that it is a niche variety relatively unknown outside South Africa. Whereas demand for international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz is still increasing, Pinotage has yet to find a comfortable level of production; since 2001, its vineyard share has been decreasing. Although South Africa remains the variety's most important proponent, small amounts are also grown in other counties.



smoked rainbow trout with capers and creme fraiche on toast points


A dry Methode Cap Classique sparkling wine from the Robertson District

first course

pasta primavera prepared with fresh vegetables


A Pinotage from the Paarl District

main course sauteed ostrich filet with peppercorns and garlic


A full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon from the Elgin Ward dessert

flourless dark chocolate torte with raspberry sauce


A Port-style red dessert wine from the Klein Karoo region


Hughes, D., Hands, P., & Kench, J. (1988). The complete book of South African wine (2nd ed.). Cape Town: C. Struik.

Leipoldt, C. L. (2004). Food & Wine. Stonewall: Cape Town.

South African Wine Industry Information & Systems (SAWIS). (2004). Vines in the Wine of Origin areas. Paarl, South Africa: Author.

South African Wine Industry Information & Systems (SAWIS). (2005). South African wine industry statistics No. 29. Paarl, South Africa: Author.

South African Wine Industry Information & Systems (SAWIS). (2009). South African wine industry statistics No. 33. Paarl, South Africa: Author.

Caption: FIGURE 16.1

Hillside vineyards near the city of Cape Town. In 1659 South Africa's first vintage of wine took place in this region when the city was a Dutch colonial outpost.

[C] Klein Constantia

Caption: FIGURE 16.2

Stellenbosch town and district is renowned for its beautiful old Cape Dutch architecture, mountainous scenery, vines, and excellent wines.

[C] Abraham Badenhorst/iStockPhoto

Caption: FIGURE 16.3

Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first democratically elected president, and his African National Congress colleagues toast his 1993 Nobel Peace Prize award with South African wine. International acceptance and soaring exports followed this endorsement.

[C] Walter Dhladhla/Getty Images

Caption: FIGURE 16.4

The indigenous vegetation of the Cape Floral Kingdom and vineyards are learning to live side by side, as new plantings extend into cooler areas and up the hillsides that are the natural habitat of this diverse ecosystem.

[C] Southwest Photography/ Shutterstock

Caption: FIGURE 16.5

Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, was first grown in South Africa in 1924. It is popular in its home country but is little known outside South Africa.

[C] Shutterstock/Sena/Aksoy

Caption: FIGURE 16.6

A vineyard in the District of Robertson. The region is best known for its white grapes such as Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Colombard that are used to make still wines as well as brandy and sparkling wine.

[C] Patrick AHen/

Caption: FIGURE 16.7

Clouds clinging to the hills in the Stellenbosch district. Situated in the heart of the Western Cape, Stellenbosch has a number of terroirs that produce a wide variety of wines.

[C] Geoffrey Whiting/ Shutterstock

Caption: FIGURE 16.8

The Paarl District lies more inland and to the north of Stellenbosch; it has nearly as much vineyard land in production as Stellenbosch, and a number of wineries both large and small.

[C] Schalke fotografie/Melissa Schalke/Shutterstock

Caption: FIGURE 16.9

Vines growing in the red soils of Swartland. This warm region is best known for its red varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, which are usually made in a rich, ripe style. The region also produces much of South Africa's wheat.

[C] Danie Nei/Shutterstock

Caption: FIGURE 16.10

The barrel cellar of Klein Constantia. The winery has recreated the famed eighteenthcentury Constantia dessert wine under the name of Vin de Constance.

Klein Constantia

Caption: FIGURE 16.11

Autumn vineyards in the picturesque ward of Constantia, just south of Cape Town.

Klein Constantia

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Title Annotation:SECTION IV: Wine Regions of the Southern Hemisphere
Publication:About Wine, 2nd ed.
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Jan 1, 2012
Previous Article:Chile and Argentina.
Next Article:The Marketing and Distribution of Wine.

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