By international standards, South Africa is a relatively small producer of wine grapes: only 1.5% of global cape town estatecultivation; slightly over 105,000 hectares (260,000 acres). But recent years have shown significant growth here, with over 140 million liters exported each year from 830 million liters produced.
A producer of both whites and reds, 80% of South Africa’s new plantings are Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet with a sprinkling of others. Over 20% of the white grapes are predominately Chenin Blanc, and white varieties are still in the great majority.
Though new to the international wine scene, South Africa has been under cultivation for 350 years, since the arrival of the Dutch settlers. With 60 appellations, the area has fewer than a dozen major growing regions.
The Cape area has seen wineries since the arrival of Europeans, with the Stellenbosch region serving as the modern center of production. Though the region cultivates several common grape varieties, it also produces an indigenous hybrid called ‘pinotage’, which is well suited to local climate conditions.
Walker Bay, a cooler area on the Whale Coast south of Cape Town, is one of the newer regions. Classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir compose the bulk of the wine production here. To the north is Swartland, where rainfall is limited so cultivation efforts are fed mostly by artificial irrigation.
In the suburbs is the small Constantia, where vineyards grow on the slopes of the eponymous mountain. This historic center of wine making boasts a Semillon made from ideal climatic conditions.
East of Stellenbosch is Elgin, where the high altitude produces a cooler climate than most other regions. Surrounded by the Drakenstein mountains, and inland to the west is the Franschoek Valley. Blessed with high rainfall and hot periods, the variety of soils combine with the climate to create perfect wine grape growing conditions.
To the north-west, Paarl is home to many of the leading South African wineries. Traditionally producing almost exclusively white wines, political and economic changes have encouraged the vintners to turn their efforts to red. The Mediterranean climate aids those efforts. A hotter climate than Stellenbosch, Paarl produces some of the best South African wines.
Durbanville vineyards, on the hills of north-east Cape Town, has been producing wine for nearly 300 years. Today, both red and white wines are well represented between a premium Sauvignon Blanc and an excellent Shiraz.
But South African conditions don’t simply emulate the Mediterranean. The Klein Karroo is a semi-arid region where muscatels and Portuguese port is produced.
Robertson, 120 km (72 mi) from Cape Town, is located along a fertile and warm valley. Chardonnay and even sparkling wine are made here. Like other regions in South Africa, red is becoming more popular, with the main production being Shiraz.
Hot Worcester, near Robertson, and the surrounding area comprise 20% of all South African vineyards, despite the long distance from Cape Town. Brandy is one of their chief products.
While the country’s political fate is always an open question, their wine making industry shows a commitment to quality second to none. With the substantial investments made over the last few years, several vineyard’s creations are due to enter the world stage.