A brief history of the vineyard
Reflecting its impressive economic growth, South Africa is now producing wines that are slowly but surely becoming the world’s newest classics.
Surprisingly enough, viticulture was only introduced there during the 17th century ; and was influenced by the arrival of French Huguenots in the 1680s.
At the time, South African winemakers mainly produced fortified wines because of the restrictive climatic conditions, and the quality of the wines was unstable.
Then came the 19th century, when most South African vines suffered the phylloxera crisis.
After the end of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela, foreign powers canceled their embargo on South African products, and the economy gradually started to recover. Viticulture experienced a revival.
Since the 2000s, South African winemaking techniques have greatly evolved, with fine equipment, low-temperature fermentation, aging in barrels…
Practices have evolved for the better and oenologists trained at the University of Stellenbosch have breathed new life into South African products.
Extent of the vineyard
In 2020, the South African vineyard covered 122,000 hectares, i.e. 1.7% of the world vineyard (OIV, 2021). It is the sixteenth in the world by size and the seventh producer by volume.
Vines are located 34 degrees south of the equator.
The climate is hot but also refreshed by the mountains and the cool maritime influences of the Southern Ocean.
The main wine regions
- The coastal region: most of the vineyards are located here. Its most renowned districts are Constantia (Cape Point), Stellenbosch which is the flagship of production, Paarl, Swartland….
- The Breede River Valley region: with a few large wineries such as Springfield Estate.
- The Klein Karoo region: a large quantity of chenin blanc and dessert wines are produced here. Semi-arid, the region is known for producing port-style wines.
- The Olifants River region: in extreme climatic conditions, irrigation is essential. They produce quality wines at reasonable prices.
Typical grape varieties and wines
In South Africa, vinification is mainly made from white grape varieties, which represent 55% of the total area planted in 2021 (SAWIS, 2021). The main grape varieties are Chenin Blanc, followed by Colombar, Sauvignon and Chardonnay, with also some Riesling and Sémillon.
The reds, which represent 45% of the grape varieties, are mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinotage and Merlot.
Pinotage is now the third most planted grape in South Africa. It is the result of a cross between 2 grape varieties, Pinot Noir and Cinsault, made by Abraham Herold in 1825.
With a complex vinification, this grape variety offers a unique aromatic palette which over the years has become the identity of the South African terroir. It can be tasted in red wines (mono-varietal or blends), rosés, and even in the South African sparkling wine, Cap Classique.