It’s impossible to talk about South African wine without first talking about South African politics.
Before the country embraced a multi-cultural democracy, its wines were, to be kind, unexciting. Not only that, about half of the winegrape production was distilled into Brandy and an array of cheap spirits.
But when Apartheid ended and South Africa was welcomed back to the world community, the new revenue was used to bring winemaking equipment and practices up to global standards. The South African wine renaissance had begun, and one can taste the improvement with each succeeding vintage.
South Africa boasts the only winelands in the world that are sandwiched between two oceans – namely, the Atlantic and Indian. The roughly 1,800 miles of coastline provide a maritime influence (cooling afternoon and early evening breezes) that grapevines love after long days of absorbing the nourishing sunshine.
Stellenbosch and Paarl are the quality capitals of South African winemaking. The Franschhoek Valley, a bit farther inland, also has been coming on strong in recent vintages.
Due in part to the country’s former political landscape, much of the wine continues to be made by large cooperatives, with multiple growers contributing their fruit to a single winemaking entity. In recent years, however, the number of private estates has multiplied, and that’s where the most talented and visionary vintners have gravitated.
It’s a new age in South Africa, and winemaking is one of the industries and crafts that is benefiting.