South Africa: An introduction to the wine region

As a wine growing region in the world, South Africa is often positioned right in the middle of the Old and the New World due to its long and varied heritage and obviously because of its central location. 
Wine has been prevalent in South Africa since the early 1600s when the Dutch East India Company decided to establish a trading station in South Africa for their merchant ships en route to India and subsequently wine cultivation was introduced to the Cape. A number of governors encouraged wine growing, but with little experience and knowhow the initial Dutch settlers were reluctant to commit and it was not until the French Huguenots settled towards the end of the 1600s, that the wine industry started to flourish.
Wine continued to be made here for the next 300 years but it was not until the last century that the industry really took off. Vast improvements in quality and the legacy of a stable industry lead by the big national cooperative, the KWV, meant that Cape wines began to gain international recognition and flourish as an exported product around the world.
The South African wine industry today is a thriving business on a global scale, boasting a plethora of different grape varietals and wine styles that showcase this New World region’s innovation, talent and progress.
There are many different regions and as result lots of variety when it comes to climates and terroirs.
On the southern slopes of the Table Mountain range and its world-renowned floral kingdom lies the historic Constantia valley; the cradle of winemaking in the Cape. The valley was the site of Simon van der Stel's 17th century wine farm and the origin of the Constantia dessert wines which became famous throughout Europe during the 18th century. Only a handful of cellars now exist here but the tradition of producing remarkable wines since 1685 continues.
Image by Tjeerd 
Only an hour east of Cape Town, the high-lying cool-climate of the Elgin district was previously an area famous for apple growing. It is now famous for its award-winning wines which include some of the best examples of Pinot Noir to come out of the Cape. The region also produces some great Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz.
The district of Franschhoek has to be one of the world’s most beautiful wine producing regions and it has a thriving culinary scene too. It lies to the southeast of Paarl and is surrounded by spectacular mountains. The vineyards, irrigated by the streams that flow down to the valley floor, produce most international grape varieties with a particular focus on rich, rounded reds.
Image by nick farnhill 
The Paarl wine district lies to the north of Stellenbosch surrounded by the mountains of the Groot and Klein-Drakenstein and Franschhoek ranges, the Berg River, and the Groot Drakenstein and Wemmershoek mountains –making Paarl another picturesque wine producing region. Lots of different varietals are grown in Paarl, of which Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Chenin are particularly prevalent.
Image by vanclark 
Perhaps the most popular wine region in South Africa due to its proximity to Cape Town, from whence thousands of tourists flock every year to enjoy the wines and see some of the finest example of Cape Dutch architecture in the country. Winemaking started here in the 17th century and the conditions are great for vine growing hence the region’s fame for its great reds and whites who are produced from most of the noble grapes varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Chardonnay, Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc.
If you want to find out more about South African wine, log on to the excellent
Main image by Dave Bezaire & Susi Havens-Bezaire 


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