Wines of South Africa
With more than 700 excellent vineyards in the Cape Wine region alone, how do you choose which estates, vineyards and cellars to visit? Road Travel tailor makes each trip for the individual. Whether your interest is white or red wine, history, just tasting, just shopping for a few special bottles or a little of everything, we design the best tour to meet your specific interests. Please contact us to create and execute your ultimate wine tour to South Africa.
On 2 February 1659 the founder of Cape Town, Jan van Riebeeck, produced the first wine recorded in South Africa. In 1685, the Constantia estate was established in a valley facing False Bay by the Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel. His Vin de Constance soon acquired a good reputation. But it was Hendrik Cloete, who bought the homestead in 1778, who really made the name of Constantia famous, with an unfortified wine made from a blend of mostly Muscat de Frontignan (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains), Pontac, red and white Muscadel and a little Chenin Blanc.
On 8 January 1918, growers in the Western Cape founded the Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Bpkt (KWV). KWV came to dominate the industry until the end of apartheid. In the 1930s they set up the South African Wine Farmers Association (SAWFA) as a 50/50 joint venture with their British agents, Vine Products, taking full control after the Second World War. Restrictions on the sale of “whites man’s liquor” to black South Africans were lifted in the 1960s. Restrictions were never placed on Colored South African laborers for fear of collapsing the wine farm labor force. Production quotas were abolished in the 1990s, and KWV relinquished its regulatory functions to the South African Wine Industry Trust and its producing interests to the Wijngaard Co-operative, leaving a publicly quoted marketing company.
For much of the 20th century, the wine industry of South Africa received very little attention on the world stage. Its isolation was exacerbated by the boycotts of South African products in protest against the country’s system of Apartheid. It was not till the late 1980s and 1990s when Apartheid was ended and the world’s export market opened up that South African wines began to experience a renaissance. Many producers in South Africa quickly adopted new viticultural and winemaking technologies. The presence of flying winemakers from abroad brought international influences and focus on well known varieties such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The reorganization of the powerful KWV co-operative into a private business further sparked innovation and improvement in quality as vineyard owners and wineries who had previously relied on the price-fixing structure that bought their excess grapes for distillation were forced to become more competitive by shifting their focus to the production of quality wine. In 1990, less than 30% of all the grapes harvested was used for wine production meant for the consumer market with the remaining 70% being discarded, distilled into brandy or sold as table grapes and juice. By 2003 the numbers had been reversed with more than 70% of the grapes harvested that year reaching the consumer market as wine.
Most of South African wine regions are located near the coastal influences of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. These regions have a Mediterranean climate that is marked by intense sunlight and dry heat. Winters tend to be cold and wet with potential snowfall at higher elevations. The threat of springtime frost is rare with most wine regions seeing a warm growing season between November and April. The majority of annual precipitation occurs in the winter months and ranges from 9.7 inches (246.38 mm) in the semi-desert like region of Klein Karoo to 59 inches (1,498.60 mm) near the Worcester Mountains. Regions closer to the coast or in the rain shadow of inland mountain chains like the Drakenstein, Hottentots Holland and Langeberg will have more rain than areas further in land. In many South African wine regions irrigation is essential to viticulture. The Benguela current from Antarctica brings cool air off the south Atlantic coast that allows the mean temperatures of the area to be lower than regions of comparable latitude. A strong wind current, known as the Cape Doctor, brings gale force winds to the wine regions along the Cape which has the positive benefit of limiting the risk of various mildew and fungal grape disease as well as tempering humidity.
During the harvest months of February and March, the average daily temperatures in many South African wine regions is 73 °F (23 °C) with spikes up to 104 °F (40 °C) not uncommon in the warm inland river valleys around the Breede, Olifants and Orange Rivers. On the Winkler scale the majority of South African wine regions would be classified as Region III locations with heat summation and degree days similar to the California wine region of Oakville in Napa Valley. Warmer regions such as Klein Karoo and Douglas fall into Region IV (similar to Tuscany) and Region V (similar to Perth in Western Australia) respectively. New plantings focus on cooler climate sites in Elgin and Walker Bay regions as characterized as Region II with temperatures closer to the Burgundy and Piedmont. New plantings are focused on cooler climate sites in Elgin and Walker Bay regions and characterized as Region II with temperatures closer to the Burgundy and Piedmont.
Wine production is an important contributor to the South African economy. More than 10 million hectolitres (one billion litres) of wine are being produced every year and this figure is growing. Plus Minus 300 000 people earn a living in the South African wine industry. More than 3 000 types of wine grapes are pressed at the Cape. The numerous wine farms produce wines of outstanding quality at very reasonable prices. We look forward to putting together the ideal wine tour for you.