Description 1 of 2

 

The history of wine-making in South Africa began as the Dutch East India company established a “refreshment station” at the Cape for trading fleets (a precursor to the truck stop) in 1652. Jan van Riebeeck, the first Cape governor planted the first vineyard in 1655 and others followed with various Dutch immigrants. The Constantia vineyard was first planted by Simon van der Stel and gained some notoriety. But since the Dutch, face it, aren’t really known for their viticultural skills, it wasn’t until the French Huguenots settled in the Cape around the 1680s that more refined wine-making techniques were practiced. 
 
But South African wines still had yet to catch on in the rest of the world. In the 18th century, there was a shortage of proper oak barrels for aging, and terroirs and climates had yet to be matched to the grapes most suited to grow in them. But the British occupation of the Cape finally helped nudge things along in the mid century, since they were still on bad terms with France, and happy to source wine from other countries. Until the Phylloxera crisis hit South Africa by the end of the 1800s, and once again, the system needed rebuilding. 
 
In 1918, Charles Kohler established the Ko-operative Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Africa Beperkt (which is thankfully abbreviated to KMV) to regulate the wine industry. 
 
But South Africa’s big moment arrived in 1925 when Stellenbosch University Professor A.I. Perold crossed Cinsault and Pinot Noir to create a unique South African hybrid, Pinotage. Say what you will about this grape of acquired taste (berries and rubber tires...yum?).  But this varietal did catch on and many wineries planted the grape for domestic and export bottlings by the 1960s. However, many countries were wary to do much business with South Africa due to its ongoing Apartheid practices. By the 1980s, a full stop embargo was enacted between countries such as the US and South Africa, which once again halted the industry since international investments in its wine dried up. Even when the embargo was finally lifted at the end of the decade, much of what was exported had garnered a poor reputation since this isolation held back modern techniques and quality advances in wine-making. 
 
But in the 1990s, once trade relations stabilized, foreign investment came pouring in. There were many opportunities for growth, and soon a range of formidable Old World and New World styles of wine were being produced and exported. Pinotage is the most popular red grape, along with Shiraz (Syrah), Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Chenin Blanc is the most popular white varietal, along with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. 
 
The subregions of South Africa are:
 
*Eastern Cape
 
*KwaZulu-Natal
 
*Northern Cape (which includes the Orange River region)
*Western Cape (which produces the majority of the country’s wines and includes the Breede River Valley, Cape Agulhas, Coastal Region, Klein Karoo, Olifants River, Overberg, Ruiterbosch and Walker Bay regions)
 
– Description from Amanda Schuster

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Description 2 of 2

A cliché is a cliché for a reason. I don't think you can view any report, article or commentary on South Africa without some mention of the amalgam of the old world and the new in the countries wines. South Africa is a cross roads striving to take the vibrancy, drinkability and fruit of the New World and combine it with the structure, elegance and food-friendliness of the old. It is staggering to realise that the wine industry in South Africa is, in effect, just 14 years old. The apartheid years were not good - bad grape clones, poor rootstocks, lack of interaction with other wine growing regions (and thus not sharing in the techniques and advances in production and viticulture) led inevitably to a general malaise. The quality of wines became, by international standards, sub-standard. The 'legendary' Pinotage being a case in point - rubber, pencil led, rusty nails are not really something you want in a red wine. Great improvements have revitalised the wine industry. Vineyards are more than welcoming to day-trippers and tourists with many offering rooms, restaurants, picnic areas, pools and other activities in addition to vineyard tours and wine tastings. Quality of the wine has improved immensely of course. Evangelists for Pinotage and Chenin - South Africa's near unique grapes touted as the countries local treasures - and those experimenting with biodynamics, white blends and obscure red grapes are thrusting the industry though an exciting period of experimentation. Problems of course exist. The disparity of living standards (although there is a rising black middle class - the black diamonds) and the redistribution of wealth are most noticable while water issues and bush fires are familiar to wine regions across the world. The problem with clichés is their narrowness; South Africa offers such an exciting, vibrant and beautiful country and people that a few simple words can't possibly encapsulate it all. – Description from winescribbler

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