Discover the Best Wine Zones in South Africa
With a long history in the wine industry that dates back to the 17th century, South Africa is a significant player today.
Do we want to say that it is one of the most interesting, dynamic countries full of possibilities to amaze the market? Ok, let’s face it, it has all it takes to make it big, especially in Europe, where the hunger for elegant and deep white wines is exploding.
Wine lovers from all over the world are very interested in the variety of styles that its different wine regions, each with their own distinctive climates, soils, and grape varietals, produce.
The Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, and Coastal Region are among the various wine areas that make up the nation. Most of South Africa’s vineyards are in the Western Cape, especially in the districts of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
People say that the weather in these places is like the weather in the Mediterranean, with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Because the soils are mostly made up of broken down granite and shale, these wines have strong, fruity aromas and a high level of tannins.
The Paarl region, which is found in the Western Cape, is another significant wine region in South Africa. The area’s iron- and manganese-rich soils result in wines with powerful, earthy notes and a solid tannic structure. Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinotage are the main red grape varietals grown in these vineyards.
A lot of people also know about the “crus” of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, which are parts of the region known for making great wines with unique tastes. For example, the Helderberg area of Stellenbosch is known for its light white wines that get better with age, while the Simonsberg area is known for its full-bodied, fruit-forward red wines.
Robertson and Walker Bay
South Africa has numerous significant wine-growing regions in the Coastal Region, which includes the Robertson and Walker Bay regions in addition to the aforementioned regions. These areas are known for their cool coastal temperatures, which help them make rich, full-bodied reds like Pinot Noir and crisp, refreshing whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Elim & Swartland
Last but not least, South Africa has a number of important “appellations,” or regions, that are known for making high-quality wines with certain qualities. For example, the Elim region is known for its dry, minerally white wines, while the Swartland region is known for its earthy, rustic red wines.
South African wines, which are not necessarily well-known to the general public, are quickly making their impact on the global market. Since the Dutch and the French were able to plant and grow some of the best European vines there in the 1600s, such as Cabernet, Souvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Syrah, viticulture is not a new thing in South Africa.
However, the severe and protracted UN embargo against “apartheid,” which embarrassed the country, suppressed its huge potential. And for this reason, South African wines didn’t start to become popular outside of their own country until the 1990s came to an end and apartheid was abolished.
The terroir, which is sandy and clayey along the beaches and rich in calcareous, stony, and granite, is perfect for growing vines, as is the humid and temperate environment. The “Cape Wineland” region is a true haven for winemakers thanks to its long, scorching summers and prized closeness to the sea.
The city of Stellenbosch has become its icon, and along with Paarl and Constantia, it forms one of the nation’s most prestigious “Wine Roads”—entertaining paths between contemporary cellars and huge estates blown by the cool coastal breezes. The production of Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, a blend of Cinsault and Pinot Noir, both fragrant and full-bodied wines, is particularly noteworthy. It is one of the key inventions that South African viticulture offers to foreign markets and was tested in Stellenbosch in the early 1900s.
These wines, which range from crisp, fruity whites to robust, intense reds and aromatic dessert wines, exhibit a high level of quality and energy that is encouraging for the market’s future.
Soils and climate
South Africa has a very different climate because of its large size, high elevation, and proximity to the sea. During the winter, the rains are caused by Antarctic cold fronts moving northward. During the same time, most of the rest of southern Africa is covered by an anticyclonic area, which keeps humid air masses from coming in from the oceans above.
The subtropical latitude and the deep maritime influence are at the origin of the Mediterranean climate that characterizes the southern part of the territory, where temperatures are mild and rainfall exceeds 600 mm. The Great Escarpment and the eastern beaches, on the other hand, receive a drenching of rain throughout the summer when low pressure conditions are developed in the continental area and humid air masses from the Indian Ocean follow the south-east trade wind (1 000-1 500 mm).
The province of KwaZulu-Natal in particular has a warm, humid environment that makes it the best place to grow tropical crops. Rainfall lessens as you move further inland; in the highlands, it is just 500–800 mm annually. As they move further west, their decline becomes more abrupt, reaching 60 mm at Port Nolloth on the Atlantic. On the coastlines, the thermal excursions, which are delicate on the plateaus, are mostly limited.
The history of winemaking in South Africa is extensive. Dutchman Jan van Riebeek started growing vines near Cape Town as early as 1655. Four years later, he was able to gather the first crop of grapes, noting in his journal, “Today, the Lord be praised, I was able to press the first grapes of Cape Town.”
However, it is revealed from another diary that the wine that resulted was not particularly palatable, instead being “so tannic that it could only be used to irritate the intestines.” Simon van der Stel, a new governor who tried to raise the caliber of the wines, came to Cape Town in 1679.
A keen wine enthusiast, Van der Stel was given control of a sizable territory he named Constantia and started cultivating grapes there. Van der Stel’s estate was divided into three separate pieces after his passing: Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, and Bergvliet. Prior to Hendrik Cloete purchasing Groot Costantia in 1778, the ownership position shifted throughout the ensuing years, and viticulture suffered.
He repaired the land and the vineyards, and in 1792 he first made Cap Constantia, a wine that would go on to become well-known. Many Huguenots (French Protestants) left France at the same moment Louis XIV repealed the Edict of Nantes, which had protected their right to practice their religion.
Some made their home in South Africa, in a region known as Franschhoek (the French Corner), a valley of extraordinary beauty that runs alongside the Bergriviers river and is shielded from the elements by the commanding Wemmershoeckberge, Drakensteinberge, and Franschoeckberge mountain ranges to the north, west, and south, respectively.
The English market for Cape wines opened up with the English conquest of South Africa in the early 1800s and the ongoing commercial conflict between France and England, and South African viticulture had a period of rapid development.
Pinotage, a grape variety unique to South Africa, was developed in 1924 by Professor Abraham Izak Perold of Stellenbosch University. It is a hybrid between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. The first Pinotage wines were up to 15% alcohol by volume, had a strong smell like acetone, and tasted like they had a lot of volatile acidity. When the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in the Province of the Cape, they were very dangerous to health.
Today, this is no longer a problem, and the vine makes great wines both on its own and when mixed with other Bordeaux grapes. Even Shiraz, a vine that thrives in South Africa’s climate and surroundings, had viral issues when it first arrived there.
There are some outstanding Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wines being made in Constantia, which has a somewhat cool environment. With these vines, even Roberson’s warmest farmers have produced surprisingly flavorful and fragrant wines.