South Africa is a large, topographically diverse country at the tip of the African continent. Beautiful beaches, rugged mountain terrain and an abundance of land and marine wildlife make this a fascinating destination for the thrill seeking tourist. And the vibrant cities of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban offer an insight into the nation’s rich and turbulent history, as well as providing ample opportunity to sample local culinary delights and delectable home grown wines.
Viticulture in South Africa dates back to the middle of the seventeenth century when grapes and subsequently wines began to be produced at a Dutch East India Company refreshment station on the Cape of Good Hope. When the nation came under British rule in the nineteenth century, a new international market opened up and for around half a century, the wine industry prospered. However, this good fortune was halted first by a devastating Phylloxera epidemic which led to the destruction of many vineyards, and second by the overproduction of high yielding grape varieties that ensued. In 1918 the Kooperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika (KWV) was established and its various restrictions had a massive influence on the industry for the majority of the century. The boycott of South African products on account of its political regime meant that it wasn’t really until the end of apartheid that the true spirit of the nation’s innovative winemakers was able to flourish.
Today the country boasts a dynamic, forward-thinking industry with almost one-hundred-thousand hectares of vineyard and hundreds of premium cellars producing wines from a diverse range of international and indigenous grapes. South Africa also has a ‘Wine of Origin’ system (established in the 1970s) which classifies and labels wines according to the region in which they are produced. The Coastal Region, Cape South Coast, Olifants River, Klein Karoo and Breede River Valley (all found in the Western Cape) are the country’s key wine producing areas with a number of smaller districts located outside of these geographic restrictions.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and the native crossing, Pinotage (Pinot Noir and Cinsault) are the three most prevalent dark skinned varieties, whilst Chenin Blanc (also called Steen), Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are amongst the principal whites. Single varietal wines are produced in a range of styles demonstrating the versatility of the South African terroir and the creativity of its winemakers. Many of these elegant, well-balanced and complex wines are making a name for themselves internationally, and often represent excellent value for the consumer. Blends - particularly those in a Bordeaux style - are also important to the industry here.
Covering 45% of South Africa’s vineyard area, the the Coastal Region is extremely important. Although it is best known for Stellenbosch, home of South Africa’s best expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon, it also produces a wealth of premium wines from Paarl, Darling and Franschoek. Inexpensive wines tend to be labelled as Coastal Region.