When it comes to wine, South Africa is a major player in the Southern Hemisphere. Ever since apartheid was abolished, South Africa’s wine industry has been the recipient of widespread acclaim and interest due to the breadth and depth of its offerings in terms of both winemaking technique and grape variety.
South African wine is frequently considered a transitional style between Old World and New World because of its 300-year history. Most wines are produced utilising New World winemaking methods, although their styles more closely resemble those of the Old World.
Grapevines dot the Western Cape’s verdant and rocky environment. The region’s varied topography of mountains, valleys, and plateaus provides ideal conditions for creating wines in a wide spectrum of styles. The Orange River region of the Northern Cape is also home to vineyards, despite the region’s flat, desolate scenery that is dominated by the Kalahari Desert.
The Mediterranean climate typical of South Africa’s wine areas is strongly impacted by the convergence of the Atlantic and Indian oceans. In general, vineyards are located within 50 km (31 mi) of the shore.
Sea breezes may easily reach the vineyards from this location, which is especially welcome in the hotter summer months. It also helps keep the temperature down, reducing the likelihood of late-spring frosts during the critical flowering and bud-bursting period.
The Cape’s mountain range acts as a funnel for these moist breezes, and the region’s uneven terrain creates a variety of microclimates ideal for winemaking. Seasonal fog between March and August is also influenced by “The Cape Doctor,” a prevailing southwesterly breeze. It blows strongly in the spring and summer, discouraging the growth of mildew diseases in the vineyard.
The indigenous Pinotage hybrid, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, is South Africa’s claim to fame, and it’s a grape you won’t find in large quantities anywhere else. Aside from the usual suspects like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Shiraz is also a commonly cultivated variety (often found together in a Bordeaux Blend).
On the other hand, over half of the country’s 93,000 hectares (230,000 acres) of vineyards are devoted to white grape types. At 18.5%, Chenin Blanc is the most widely cultivated grape in the nation. It may no longer be the primary grape used to make brandy and fortified wines, but it is still the most widely planted variety in the world and the source of the world’s finest dry white wines.
In contrast, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, two varietals that have gained popularity around the world in recent years, are used to make some of the best white wines. South African Sauvignon Blanc is typically unoaked, with excellent examples showcasing honeysuckle, green melon, and minerality. The Cape style of Chardonnay is a model of the blending of New and Old World winemaking traditions.
The areas, districts, and wards of South Africa that are suitable for growing grapes are defined under the Wine of Origin system, a legal framework established in 1972 to recognise and safeguard the country’s diverse terroir.
Dutch colonists introduced the first vines to the region in the 1650s, but it wasn’t until the arrival of French Huguenots in the 1680s that winemaking really took off. Constantia is the oldest wine estate in South Africa, and its fame was established in the 18th and 19th centuries thanks to the manufacture of the legendary dessert wine Vin de Constance. The first vineyards in the Stellenbosch area were established in the 1690s, making it a historic wine-growing location as well.
There were several setbacks in the 19th and 20th century for South Africa’s wine business. The vineyard region was drastically cut in size after a phylloxera epidemic in the 1860s. Because of the widespread replanting that followed, with high-yielding grape varieties like Cinsaut, there is now a glut on the market.
As a result, the government of South Africa provided funding to the Kooperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika, an industry group (the South African Co-Operative Wine Growers Association, better known as KWV). Throughout the 20th century, KWV severely limited wine production, making novel approaches to winemaking extremely difficult while placing greater emphasis on output than quality.
Brandy and fortified wine manufacturing was encouraged by imposing yield restrictions and setting minimum pricing. South Africa’s wine business is notable for its high number of co-operatives, which KWV dominated until the 1990s.
In the 1980s, when trade sanctions were imposed on South Africa because of its apartheid policies, the international reputation of South African wine hit an all-time low. Wines from the Stellenbosch region’s Rust en Vrede vineyard were served at Nelson Mandela’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony supper in Oslo, Norway, in 1993, a year after he was released from prison and elected president.
A trade group originally called the South African Wines and Spirits Export Association, Wines of South Africa was officially rebranded in 2010. (WOSA). Its mission is to increase international demand for South African wine through non-commercial efforts.
Recently, the limits enforced by the Covid-19 epidemic made 2020 one of the most difficult years for the South African wine sector. There was a ban on the sale and production of alcoholic beverages from March 26th to April 16th. Thankfully, a loophole was found to allow the wine business to finish up harvest-related activities, but nationwide restrictions on the sale and transit of alcoholic beverages were maintained long into 2021.
These days, Europe is the most important export market for over half of all wine produced in the country. There were 542 wineries in 2022, and they harvested about 1.4 million tonnes of grapes, which resulted in 806 million litres of wine. More than 300,000 people are employed in the industry; given the country’s history much attention is paid to worker welfare and many wineries have created specific brands to assist programmes such as house-building and educational provision.
Famous South African Wines
Klein Constantia Vin de Constance Natural Sweet Wine, Constantia, South Africa
Klein Constantia Estate in Constantia, South Africa, produces Vin de Constance, a natural sweet wine. It’s made from the Muscat de Frontignan grape and has a rich, sweet, and refreshing flavour with overtones of apricots, peaches, and citrus. Vin de Constance has a rich history that dates back to the 17th century and is regarded as one of the world’s greatest sweet wines.
The Sadie Family Die Ouwingerdreeks ‘Mev. Kirsten’ Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa
The Sadie Family Die Ouwingerdreeks ‘Mev. Kirsten’ Chenin Blanc is a white wine made in Stellenbosch, South Africa by The Sadie Family winery. It is created from the Chenin Blanc grape and has flavours and smells of juicy apples, pears, and honey. The ‘Mev. Kirsten’ is a top-tier South African Chenin Blanc that is highly sought after by wine connoisseurs and collectors. The Sadie Family is known for making terroir-driven, simple wines that highlight the distinct character of the vineyards from which they are sourced.
Mullineux ‘Schist’ Syrah, Swartland, South Africa
Mullineux ‘Schist’ Syrah is a South African red wine produced by the Mullineux winery in Swartland. It is derived from the Syrah grape and is noted for its particular flavour profile, which includes dark fruit, black pepper, and smokey overtones. The ‘Schist’ Syrah is named for the grapes’ growing soils, which are rich in iron-rich shale (known as schist). The Mullineux winery is noted for making wines that reflect the Swartland region’s terroir, and the ‘Schist’ Syrah is one of their hallmark wines.