At the southern tip of Africa, where two mighty oceans meet in the shadow of Table Mountain, lies what South Africans call “the fairest cape in the world.”
Known locally as the Mother City, Cape Town is the gateway to the South African winelands and one of the great wine capitals of the world. There, the cultures of Africa, Europe and the East have met and mingled for more than three-and-a-half centuries, shaping a city both ancient and modern, rich in colorful history and culturally diverse.
And beginning today, much of the world will be introduced to Cape Town and other South Africa locales as the country plays host to soccer’s World Cup. Many Africans hope the exposure will help combat the continent’s stereotypes.
The Cape has witnessed many momentous events in South Africa’s history, including the landing of the Dutch settlers in 1652, the British invasion during the Napoleonic Wars, and the rebellion into the interior known as the Groot Trek. This was where, in 1990, Nelson Mandela took his first historic walk to freedom. And it is where, four years later, Archbishop Tutu described the new South African nation as “the rainbow people of God,” and the “rainbow nation” was born.
Today, South Africa is a peaceful democracy, a vibrant and exciting country of enormous diversity. And this variety is reflected in the country’s wines.
With a winemaking history dating back some 350 years, the industry reflects the classicism of the Old World but also is influenced by the fruit-driven style of the New World. This rare combination makes for wines which are complex yet accessible, refined yet powerful, eloquently expressing the unique terroir and people of the Cape.
White varieties account for 56 percent of the winegrape plantings in South Africa, with Chenin Blanc being the most popular. A “style” of South African Chenin Blanc is impossible to identify, however, because the variety takes on a different personality in each region it’s grown.
That’s one of the reasons the wine industry adopted the slogan, “Variety is in our nature.”
Among red varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon has taken the lead in grapevine acreage, followed by Syrah and Merlot. Ranked fourth is South Africa’s “signature” wine, a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault known as Pinotage.
You’re likely to see the names “Chenin Blanc” and “Pinotage” on bottles shipped to the United States, but in South Africa, these varieties typically are referred to as “Steen” and “Hermitage,” respectively.
In the last few years, a dynamic new vision has given momentum to changes within an industry which is innovation driven, market directed and globally competitive. This new ethos has seen the wine industry emerge as a global enterprise with strong cultural roots and a sense of social responsibility.
With the advent of democracy, the opening of new markets and exposure to international trends, South Africa now competes with confidence on the world wine stage. A new generation of passionate winemakers, many possessing experience with harvests around the globe, are keen to learn, experiment and consolidate.
There also has been a focused shift from grape farming to winegrowing. Rather than striving for maximum tonnage at harvest time, growers are concentrating on the quality of the fruit, and thus are able to command deserved higher prices from the wineries.
The Cape wine-growing areas, situated in the narrow viticultural zone of the Southern Hemisphere, mainly have a Mediterranean climate. The mountain slopes and valleys form the ideal habitat for the Vitis vinifera grapes, the products of which have given pleasure to man for many centuries. Long, sun-drenched summers and mild, wet winters contribute to the ideal conditions for viticulture at the Cape.
The country takes the industry very seriously, recognizing that wine can help break down barriers of communication and alter long-held perceptions. The South African wine industry is backed by a state research body, the Nietvoorbij Institute for Viticulture and Oenology, employing some 250 people. Also, the departments of viniculture and viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch and at Elsenburg Agricultural College offer cellar technology.
South Africa has done an excellent job of developing a series of “wine routes” that are useful to visitors in planning vacations. See the list below for a summary of the wine areas and trade groups, along with contact information.
As you watch the World Cup on television over the next month, keep in mind that virtually anywhere a game is being played, a “wine route” is not far away, and that the wines being made in South Africa are world-class in every way.
The Wine Routes of South Africa
Breedekloof Wine and Tourism – [email protected]kloof.com
Calitzdorp Wine Route – [email protected]
Constantia Wine Route – [email protected]
Darling Wine Experience – [email protected]
Durbanville Wine Valley Assn. – [email protected]
Elgin Wine Route – [email protected]
Helderberg Wine Route – [email protected]
Little Karoo Wine Route – [email protected]
Northern Cape Wine Assn. – [email protected]
Olifants River Wine Route – [email protected]
Outeniqua Wine Route – [email protected]
Paarl Vintners – [email protected]
Robertson Wine Valley – [email protected]
Stellenbosch Wine Route – [email protected]
Swartland Wine Route – [email protected]
Tulbagh Wine Route – [email protected]
Vignerons de Franschhoek – [email protected]
Walker Bay Wine Wander – [email protected]
Wellington Wine Route – [email protected]
Worcester Wine Route – [email protected]