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When Nelson Mandela became President in 1994 and Apartheid ended. Almost overnight, boutique wineries and négociants sprang up across the country and the culture of winemaking changed from one of quantity to one of quality. Exports shot through the roof as international customers snapped up anything and everything the country could offer after such a long isolation from the international market. Today South Africa is a land of excitement and experimentation, as growers plant a variety of grapes and try to find the best wine for the land. The country has yet to decide on a true specialty, but some of the majo contenders are Pinotage, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc.
South Africa experienced a tough year from a political standpoint in 2013. Labour unrest and striking resulted in problems with the harvesting of grapes. There was also the burning of vineyards by workers demanding higher wages, which had an impact on the overall grape harvest and curbed the growth potential of wine in the country.
Marketleaders in SA
Distell Group led wine in South Africa with a volume share of 33% in 2013. Whilst this was a slight decline compared with the previous year’s share, the company’s actual volume sales enjoyed an increase. Whilst the company’s 4th Street brand of wine witnessed strong growth, this was partly offset by the decline of Oom Tas. On the whole, its share in wine declined. Distell is the national brand owner of 38 still wines and six sparkling wines in South Africa. Distell’s top three sellers in wine in South Africa are Paarle Perle, Autumn Harvest Crackling and Drostdy-Hof. JC Le Roux (sparkling wine) and Sedgwicks Old Brown Sherry also contributed to its strong overall share in wine.
Two fairly large crops and a poor grape harvest in Europe, as well as the weakening rand, resulted in driving bulk exports in 2013. Russia in particular is price-sensitive, and a good market to which to export. However, it is thought that bulk sales will slow over the forecast period, as production in Italy, Spain and France return to normal.
Home to the first vineyard in the Cape, Constantia occupies a special place in the lore of South African winemaking. Although it has never produced more than three or four percent of South Africa’s wines, Constantia is historically responsible its country’s best-regarded bottles. For the two hundred years following 1685, Constantia was known around the world for its sweet dessert red wines, praised such iconic celebrities as Napoleon, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can follow the Constantia Wine Route out of Capetown and visit Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, Buitenverwachting, Constantia Uitsig and Steenberg.
In 1685, Simon van der Stel, Commander of the Cape of Good Hope, granted himself land in a fertile valley, planted vines and called his farm Constantia. Today a suburb of nearby Capetown, the Constantia takes its name from Van der Stel’s original farm. Since Van der Stel’s first harvest the vineyard was a success, and sweet Constantia red dessert wines occupied the cellars of European high society for two hundred years. The district was hit hard by the phylloxera aphid infestation in 1886, and the following Boer War gave it little time to recover. After a largely dormant period, Constantia began once again to produce fine wines in the 1970’s. Groot Constantia, part of Van der Stel’s original vineyard, is once again producing wines of international acclaim. Today Constantia is a ward in South Africa’s Coastal Region recognized for its premier whites, notably sauvignon blanc, Semillon, and muscat.
Constantia enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate with generous winter rainfall. Ocean air off the nearby False Bay help keep temperatures mild, and warm summers are moderated by occasional rain and Atlantic breezes. A suburb of Capetown, Constantia is a ward inside the Coastal Region of South Africa. Its vineyards lie on the gentle slopes at the foot of Constantia Mountain, and its south-facing hillsides offer spectacular views of the nearby False Bay. Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Durbanville all lie nearby to the northeast. Vineyards in the area and adorn the mountain foothills, running parallel with the beaches of the popular False Bay, and must now compete for space with housing developments in Capetown’s affluent residential suburbs.
The soil varies with elevation as you climb the mountain slopes, but it is mostly granite-based and contains large amounts of clay. Higher up, there is an increased sandstone content, but the area remains fertile. Excessive humidity can make red winemaking difficult, and slopes that receive ample sunlight are especially sought after.
Important Varietals: Semillon, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Pinot Noir.
The district of Paarl is named after a large dome-shaped rock formation within its borders. The granite rocks on this peak shine and glow in the sunlight, leading the first Dutch explorers in the region to name the mountain “den Diamant ende Peerlbergh – the Diamond-and-Pearl-Mountain.” The town constructed at the base of this peak was named Paarl after the shining mountain. Today the region boasts some of the best wines in South Africa, and is home to such important historical sites as the Afrikaans Language Monument and Drakenstein Prision, which held Nelson Mandela during his final years of captivity. But there’s more! Paarl is also home to the great Red Route, a tour that offers tasting from world-class red wine cellars, and the district also holds the famous annual Nederberg Auction, a veritable heaven for wine enthusiasts.
Paarl is the third oldest European settlement in South Africa. The area was first explored in 1657 by the Dutch, who were immediately awed by the glistening granite of Paarl Mountain. In 1688 Dutch settlers established the first farms in the area, and one year later a group of French Hugenots arrived and began to plant vineyards. Over 300 years later, this French influence can still be seen in the landscape and tasted in the wine. By the mid 1800s, the district had developed an industrial base, and was best known for wine, and the manufacturing of wagons and carts. Paarl is now the second most industrialized city in the Western Cape region of South Africa, but it still maintains its agricultural roots. Farms and vineyards abound, even within the city limits of Paarl itself. Some of South Africa’s best estate wines can be found here, several of which have gained international popularity and prestige.
Paarl lies in the Berg River Valley, bordered by the Parl Mountains and the Drakenstein Range. It lies to the north of the famous Stellenbosch district, and about forty miles northeast of Cape Town. Similar to the Rhône Valley in southern France, the warm summers and wet winters in Paarl make it well suited to the production of fine wines. Summer runs from October through March, with warm weather tempered by cool Atlantic breezes prevailing through the harvest season. Winter is colder, but moderated by the relative proximity to the ocean. The high mountains surrounding the district trap the winter clouds, dropping good quantities of rain to maintain the vineyards with a minimum of irrigation. Vineyards grow on the flat valley floor, and have expanded extensively into the surrounding hillsides.
There are three distinct soil types in the Paarl district. The mountain slopes are composed of granite-based soil, and as such have very good drainage. The fertile Berg River Valley contains a soil blend of primarily Table Mountain sandstone. Shale is interspersed throughout the northeastern corner of the district. Important Varietals: Shiraz, Voignier, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Semillon and Chardonnay
Generally accepted as South Africa’s greatest wine district, Stellenbosch has become world famous for its high quality estates. Wineries have been in operation here since the early seventeenth century, making Stellenbosch the most densely cultivated areas in the country. Most of South Africa’s leading vineyards can be found here: Mulderbosch, Rustenberg, De Toren, and Thelema to name a few. For those fortunate enough to visit, Stellenbosch offers a well-known winery tour of the best vineyards in the district, the Stellenbosch Wine Route.
The Stellenbosch district bears the name of its main city, a quaint university town in the heart of the region. The town was established in 1679 when the Dutch governor of the Cape Colony of the Dutch East India Company, Simon van der Stel, spent one night camping in the brushland along the Eerste River. The town was named ‘van der Stel’s bush’, or Stellenbosch. A few years later, houses began to spring up in the river valley forming a small farming community. Due to the favorable climate and soils, settlers around the town began to produce wine, and they have never stopped. In 1971, after gaining international prestige for consistently producing high quality wines, the district of Stellenbosch created the Stellenbosch Wine Route. For tourists and wine lovers, this tour of the area includes over 100 wineries and cellars where the award-winning wines of Stellenbosch can be sampled and enjoyed.
Nestled between coastal mountain ridges, Stellenbosch enjoys a pleasant Mediterranean climate ideal for growing high-quality grapes. Summer runs from October through March, with warm weather tempered by cool Atlantic breezes prevailing through the harvest season. Winter is cool and rainy, but moderated by the proximity to the ocean. Stellenbosch lies in a river valley between high mountains. The soil is made of granite along the mountain slopes, as well as sandstone and shale with good water retention. The river valley soil is extremely fertile and contains pockets of the Hutton soil, which the vine-growers love. The particularly granite-rich regions provide ideal growing conditions for red wines, while the areas with a higher concentration of sandstone-based soil produce excellent whites.
Important Varietals: Jonkershoek Valley, located east of Stellenbosch town is famous Cabernet Sauvignon and cabernet blends. Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, in the south-western foothills of the Simonsberg mountain, produces high quality Cabernet Sauvignon, cabernet blends, Pinotage, and reds in general. Bottelary, to the north-west of Stellenbosch town is well regarded for its Pinotage, Shiraz, other “warm-blooded” blends. Devon Valley, north-west of Stellenbosch town, makes primarily red blends. Papegaaiberg, to the west of Stellenbosch town contributes Chardonnay, chenin, merlot, and cabernet. The rest of the Stellenbosch region, which remains unappelated, is well-known for red blends, chenin, and sauvignon. Throughout Stellenbosch, one can find merlot and chardonnay vines as well.
Known as the “wine and food capital of the cape,” Franschhoek is a small but important wine region of South Africa. First settled by the French Huegenots, wine has been produced here for over 300 years. In fact, South Africa owes much of its contemporary winemaking techniques and skills to these original immigrants, who brought with them the uncanny French knowledge of viticulture.
Located just east of the famous Stellenbosch region, Franschhoek enjoys a warm climate tempered by relative proximity to the ocean. However, coastal mountains do provide a sheltering influence, making Franschhoek slightly warmer than its neighbor. The most popular varieties produced here are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Merlot.
Just over an hour drive from Cape Town, Robertson is rapidly developing a reputation for high quality wines. The warm, dry climate and the lime-rich soil of the Breede River Valley provide excellent growing conditions, especially for white varietals. The pleasant district, often referred to as “The Valley of Wine and Roses,” boasts such vineyards as Weltevrede (which makes an award-winning Riesling), Bon Courage (famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon), and Graham Beck (which produces excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay).
A dry district thirty miles northeast of Cape Town, Swartland’s wine production remains dominated by the communal wine-producing system. As a result of the district’s climate, vineyards grow in a non-irrigated, bush-vine formation and produce small quantities of high quality grapes. A large quantity of Swartland’s yield is mixed with grapes from other faster-growing regions to add body and color to the finished wine. Bold, powerful reds and lush whites wines make up the majority of styles produced.
One of the newcomers in South Africa’s wine territories, Walker Bay lies in a complex geological region of mountains, valleys, and coastal zones. As its name suggests, much of the district pushes up against the cool Atlantic Ocean, which keeps temperatures moderate to cool year round. Top-quality areas within the Walker Bay include Elgin and Hemel-en-Aarde, which arguably produce the best pinot noir in South Africa. Bouchard-Finlayson and Hamilton-Russell are some of the most well known wineries in the district.