As we sit to write this blog, we are in surrounded by the rolling hills and pretty vineyards of the spectacular Cape Winelands for our first Cape Wine show. In the midst of the beauty and serenity of this place, one can definitely feel the vibrant energy of the people in the business of growing, making and presenting wine; and the dynamism of an industry that is quietly making its indelible mark in the international wine scene as a region producing world-class wine.
Although well-known as a new world wine, South African wines date back well over three and a half centuries to 1659. Wine growing in the Cape region has since had an extensive and proud history placing South African wines among the most highly regarded worldwide. The Cape has diverse altitude, soil and climate, allowing for a wide range of varieties to be grown and developed with the unique new and old world traditions.
Most of the Cape is influenced by the two oceans that meet at the southernmost tip of South Africa; the South Atlantic Ocean to the West and the Indian Ocean to the East. The Mediterranean climate and the verdant green valleys and mountains form the idyllic environment for Vitis vinifera to grow. The long sun-drenched summers, marine fog and temperate, wet winters contribute to the Cape's ideal viticulture conditions to create wines that elegantly express the unique terroir and are unique in complexity and character.
Most of the Cape’s vineyards are along the coastline; they benefit from the cooling Benguela Current that flows from the Antarctic. During the summer, the strong ‘Cape Doctor’ winds cool vineyards further inland toward the mountains throughout the region, providing a range of rich soils that dictate the wine produced.
South Africa produces the inimitable Chenin blanc, the most widely planted and versatile grape. The wines from this grape range from crisp and dry to sweet and even sparkling. The flavours can have hints of honey, notes of green apples, citrus fruits and pears. The high acidity levels make the wines refreshing and food-pairing-friendly.
Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in the Western Cape in the Stellenbosch region, stretching from the coast into the mountains. The region has a temperate climate and plentiful winter rainfall, creating ideal conditions for ripening grapes giving intense fruit flavours and firm tannins.
Excellent Merlot wines are produced in this region; they present the softer, velvety flavours found in world-class Bordeaux-style blends. Just north of Stellenbosch is Paarl, the slightly warmer and drier region that produced ripe blackberry and plum-flavoured Cabernet Sauvignon. The Pinotage grape is a unique blend of Pinot Noir and Cinsault developed in South Africa and often blended with international varieties creating the 'Cape Blend' with rich chocolate and intense coffee aromas.
Just outside Cape Town is the wine region Constantia known for its production of the sweet wine, Vin de Constance, made from ancient vines that produce low yields. The climate in this region is ideal; the cool maritime winds help preserve the delicate sweetness of the rare grapes that produce the costly and highly revered wine. Vin de Constance showcases the best of South African wine. Further north, Swartland was known for its high-yielding grapes and inexpensive wine. However, following decades of innovation, the region produces premium wines from old vine Chenin Blancs and Syrah.
South Africa has become a world leader in terroir research and is leading the industry in wine production integrity. For over a decade, authorities have used an official seal confirming sustainable wine production. Ongoing studies enable researchers to identify what constitutes terroir, the natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. Since 1974, the South African Wine of Origin scheme guarantees the information on the label that states where the grapes came from, the vintage year and the varieties. The sustainability guidelines are constantly improved. Independent auditors survey the farms and cellars; if they pass the audit, they can use the new sustainability seal. Overall. South African producers are conservation-conscious, with thousands of acres conserved or owned by WWF Conservation Champions.