South African Wine
Wine competitions are held to assess whether a wine is of good quality and whether it is true to its character. In 2014 more than 20 wine competitions were held in South Africa, many of them concentrating on specific styles or varietals. The only South African wine competition acknowledged as a truly international wine concours is the annual Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards, founded in 1997. The first Michelangelo Liqueur Awards were held in 2014 as part of the wine awards. Only accredited wine judges, wine makers and sommeliers from Europe, USA, Australia and Asia are invited to judge the approximately 1700 South African wines and spirits entered by producers in the Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards (www.michelangeloawards.com). Another South African wine competition, the national Veritas award, was started in 1990. The Top 100 South African Wine Competition is a newer example of a local wine competition.
South African Wine
The South African wine industry has been led by many powerful organisations in both the private sector and through governmental agencies. Unlike other New World wine regions, the South African wine industry is largely influenced by several large co-operatives. The Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Bpkt (KWV) was a co-operative first created through the funding and encouragement of the South African government as a force to stabilise and grow the South African wine industry. As the KWV is now a privately owned winemaking co-operative some of its regulatory responsibilities have fallen to other organisations such as the South African Wine & Spirit Board. The Wine & Spirit Board runs the voluntary certification programme that allows South African wines to be “certified” for quality and accuracy in labelling. In addition to being subject to various labelling guidelines, wines are blind tasted by a panel of experts for quality, and are put through an analytic test for faults. Like the vintage and varietal labelling guidelines, these tests are voluntary, but wines that are not submitted for testing are liable for random testing for health requirements.
South African Wine
South African labelling law focuses largely on geographical origins, falling under the purview of the Wine of Origin legislation. Single vineyard designated wine can be produced, provided the vineyard is registered with the government and all grapes used in the production of the wine were grown in that vineyard. While the term “estate” no longer qualifies as a designation of geographic origins, wineries can still label “estate wines” provided all the grapes were grown, and the wine was vinified and bottled on the same property. The South African Wine & Spirit Board operates a voluntary programme that allows South African wines to be “certified” for quality and accuracy in labelling. Under this certification process, vintage dated wine must be composed of at least 85% grapes that were harvested that vintage year. Varietal wines must also be composed of at least 85% of the listed varietal. Blends, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage blend, can have both varietals listed on the label provided the two wines were vinified separately. A wine that has been “co-fermented”, with both grapes crushed and vinified together such as a Shiraz-Viognier, cannot list both varietals. As of 2006, about 35% of Cape wineries participated in this voluntary programme.
As of 2003, South Africa was 17th in terms of area planted with vines, with the country owning 1.5% of the world’s grape vineyards with 110,000 hectares (270,000 acres). Yearly production among South Africa’s wine regions is usually around 10 million hL (264 million US gallons) which regularly puts the country among the top ten wine producing countries in the world. The majority of wine production in South Africa takes place in the Cape, particularly the southwest corner near the coastal region. The historical heart of South African wine has been the area near the Cape Peninsula and modern-day Cape Town. This area is still of prominence in the industry being home to the major wine regions of Constantia, Stellenbosch and Paarl. Today wine is grown throughout the Western Cape and in parts of the Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape regions. The river regions along the Breede Valley, Olifants and Orange Rivers are among the warmest areas and are often the location of bulk wine production and distillation. The cooler climate regions east of Cape Town along the Indian Ocean’s coast, such as Walker Bay and Elgin, have seen vast expansion and development in recent years as producers experiment with cool climate varietals and wine styles.
Pinotage, a crossing of Pinot noir and Cinsaut, has seen its plantings rise and fall due to the current fashion of the South African wine industry. Today it is the second most widely planted red grape variety in South Africa. While there are supporters who want to make the grape South Africa’s signature variety, critics of the grape note that hardly any other wine region in the world has planted this variety due to its flaws. In the early 1990s, as Apartheid ended and the world’s wine market was opening up, winemakers in South Africa ignored Pinotage in favour of more internationally recognised varieties like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Toward the end of the 20th century, the grape’s fortunes began to turn, and by 1997 it commanded higher prices than any other South African grape. It is a required component (30–70%) in “Cape blends”. Here it is made into the full range of styles, from easy-drinking quaffing wine and rosé to barrel-aged wine intended for cellaring. It is also made into a fortified “port-style”, and even a red sparkling wine. The grape can be very dependent on the style of winemaking, with well made examples having the potential to produce deep coloured, fruity wines that can be accessible early as well as age. However critics of the variety believe that the variety’s flaws-green vegetal flavours and tannins, and susceptibility to developing banana and nail polish acetate aromas-are present in far more examples of Pinotage that reach the consumer market. Pinotage reached its zenith in 2001, covering 7.3% of the total vineyard area, but this has since decreased to 6%.
For much of the 20th century, the South African wine industry received minimal international attention. Its isolation was exacerbated by the boycotts of South African products in protest against the country’s system of Apartheid. It was not until 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 sparked further innovation and improvement in quality; 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 were 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.
South African wine has a history dating back to 1659 with Constantia, a vineyard near Cape Town. Access to international markets lead to new investment in the South African wine market. Production is concentrated around Cape Town, with major vineyard and production centres at Paarl, Stellenbosch and Worcester. There are about 60 appellations within the Wine of Origin (WO) system, which was implemented in 1973 with a hierarchy of designated production regions, districts and wards. WO wines must only contain grapes from the specific area of origin. “Single vineyard” wines must come from a defined area of less than 5 hectares. An “Estate Wine” can come from adjacent farms if they are farmed together and wine is produced on site. A ward is an area with a distinctive soil type or climate and is roughly equivalent to a European appellation.
The Northern Cape wine regions located along the Orange River include the hottest wine producing areas in South Africa. Wine production here was slow to take root, delayed to the 1960s when better irrigation and temperature control fermentation technology became available. Today the area is responsible for nearly 12% of all the wine produced in South Africa-mostly by large co-operatives for bulk wine production. The Hartswater region, located 80 kilometres (50 mi) north of Kimberley is South Africa’s northernmost wine region.
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. These regions have a mostly 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 250 millimetres (9.84 in) in the semi-desert-like region of Klein Karoo to 1,500 millimetres (59.06 in) 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 inland. 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, but can also damage grapevines that are not protected.