“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page“, said St Augustin. Sout Africa is the first page of our book…for the moment.
The roots of the South African wine industry date back to the XVII century, in 1659, when the founder of Cape Town, Jan van Riebeeck, produced the first wine recorded in the country. His venue was linked to the explorations of the Dutch East India Company which established a supply station in Cape Town.
However the boom of the South African wine industry is very recent. In 1918, growers in the Western Cape founded the “Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging“ (KWV), in order to increase the production and the quality of wine. But production quotas were only abolished in the 1990s.
Prior to the end of Apartheid in the 1990’s South Africa was very isolated. When Apartheid was abolished the boycotts of South African products were dropped and the world’s export markets opened to us.
« The real changes in terms of winemaking and production came about in the last 20 years », according to Helanie Olivier, winemarker at Hoopenburg Winery, in Stellenbosch. « We have come a long way since those early days. South African winemakers nowadays are generally well travelled and innovative. We draw from many different influences, as creative people tend to do, and find joy in creating elegant wines that truly express our unique terroir. », she added.
In 2012, South Africa produced 870.9 million litres of wine, becoming word 9th biggest wine producing country. Exportations are increasing every year. In 2013 South Africa’s wineries exported 525.7 million litres, beating the previous record achieved in 2012 by 26%, according to Chris Mercer (Decanter, Monday 13 January 2014).
Two important points to remember. South Africans don’t have an “AOC system“ like in France. The wine regions of South Africa are defined under the “Wine of Origin” act of 1973.
All South African wines listed as “Wine of Origin” must be composed entirely of grapes from its region. As a result, the WO does not place adjunct regulations on wine regions such as delineating permitted varieties, trellising methods, irrigation techniques, and crop yields. It only divides growing regions into four categories.
The largest and most generic are geographical units (such as the Western Cape region) which subsume the smaller, but still broad spanning regions (such as Overberg). Under these are clustered districts (like Walker Bay, Stellenbosch, Paarl or Swartland) and within them are wards (such as Elgin).
South Africa is located at the tip of the African continent with most wine regions located near the coastal influences of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, as you may know. These regions have mostly a Mediterranean climate that is marked by intense sunlight and dry heat. In many South African wine regions irrigation is essential to viticulture.
Now that you have some information in your hands to become an expert on South African wines, let’s talk about what excited us the most during our stay: Braai & Pinotage. Two lovely discoveries from the South African culture, which goes extremely well together !
Any Braai is a unique moment. A social experience. A sweet way of relaxing yourself after a long day of work, around a fire, chatting with your friends, a drink close to you.
Braai means “barbecue” in Afrikaans and the traditions around it can be considerably different from our european barbecue.
According to Helanie Oliver, « using gas is cheating. The use of charcoal and briquettes is common, mainly due to their convenience, but using wood for the fire is the tradional way of preparing a braai. The additional bonus is that it makes good use of alien plants that have been removed in aid of preserving biodiversity. For a bit of background: the Cape floral Kingdom has the greatest non-tropical concentration of higher plant species in the world and is located entirely within the borders of South Africa. Most of the region is covered with fynbos which is home to an amazing diversity of plant species ».
Braai Day is a celebration of South Africa’s rich cultural heritage and its unique national pastime, the braai. South Africans are known as the rainbow nation, and across race, language, region and religion, they all share this common heritage, celebrated on 24 September (South Africa’s Heritage Day).
We had the chance to experience several Braais with friends during our stay in Stellenbosch, Paarl and the Orange River. It was always a fantastic time !
Pinotage is for the South African wine industry what the Eiffel Tower is for French tourism : a signature. Pinotage is a viticultural cross of two varieties of Vitis vinifera, Pinot noir and Cinsaut (also known as “Hermitage” in South Africa) and created in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University.
It represents 6% of the total South African wine production as well as more than 95% of the world Pinotage cultivation. In addition Pinotage is also grown in Brazil, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, United States and Zimbabwe. It is a required component in “Cape blends“, red wines with a proportion of Pinotage blended with other grapes (30-70%).
The vines are vigorous like their parent Cinsaut and easy to grow, ripening early with high sugar levels. Pinotage can be grown via the trellised system or as bushvines. The older Pinotage vineyards are predominately planted as bushvines and it is perceived that these lend a higher concentration of fruit and more depth to the wine. This cultivar is naturally high in tannins which can be tamed with limited maceration time but reducing the skin contact can also reduce some of the mulberry, blackberry and damson fruit character that Pinotage can produce. Tannin management is key.
Thank you South Africa for your warm welcome. Now there remain 89 countries to visit and we will be able to complete the Wine Explorers' project.
Thank you to Orange River Cellars , Strandveld, Warwick, Dorrance, Bellevue, Kaapzitch, Guardian Peak, La Motte, Fairview, L'Avenir, Good Hope and Hoopenburg for their warm welcome.