The Cape winelands stretch from the rugged mountains and multi-directional slopes of the coastal region to the open plains of the Little Karoo where viticulture takes place mainly in the riverine valleys. South Africa's vineyards are mostly situated in the Western Cape near the coast. Rainfall on the coastal side, where fynbos and renosterveld vegetation flourish, measures up to 1 000 mm per year. Travel over the mountains into the hinterland and the rainfall decreases dramatically with the vegetation dominated by hardy succulents, cycads and aloes.
Currently around 100 200 ha of vines producing wine grapes are under cultivation over an area some 800 km in length. Under the auspices of the Wine of Origin Scheme, production zones in the Cape winelands are divided into officially demarcated regions, districts and wards. There are four main regions - Breede River Valley, Coastal, Little Karoo and Olifants River, encompassing 18 diverse districts and some 53 smaller wards including exciting new ones like Elim and Philadelphia.
WINE OF ORIGIN PRODUCTION AREAS
Click HERE for a list of production areas defined in terms of the Wine of Origin Scheme.
Most of these maritime vineyards are situated in the ward of Elim near Africa's southernmost point, Cape Agulhas. The entire picturesque village of Elim, a Moravian mission settlement founded in 1824, is a national monument. Strong, cooling winds are prevalent in summer, ensuring a very cool ripening season, perfect for Sauvignon Blanc and also promising for Semillon and Shiraz. Generating much interest in the winelands, the still small hectarage in this coastal district shows great potential.
These promising vineyards, some of them a mere kilometre from the sea, are situated on the western edges of the Cape Peninsula. This cool-climate district is recognised for its Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Now the first red wine vineyards, planted at Red Hill bordering the Cape Point Nature Reserve, have come on stream.
This historic valley was the site of Simon van der Stel's 17th-century wine farm and the source of the Constantia dessert wines which were world famous during the 18th century. There are only a handful of cellars in this premier ward and these continue the tradition of producing excellent wines from the classic European noble varieties. The vineyards cling to the eastern slopes of Constantiaberg, an extension of Table Mountain below which Cape Town and its suburbs spread out. The vines benefit from the cool sea breezes blowing in from False Bay some five to 10 kilometres away. The ward receives about 1 000mm of rain annually, making irrigation unnecessary, and has a mean February temperature of 20.6°C.
In an area surrounded by quality vineyards, Darling is playing an increasingly visible role, with its own wine route and several tourist attractions just an hour away from Cape Town. Darling, now a demarcated district, favours the cultivation of more delicate varieties. The Groenekloof ward, which benefits from being one of the closest to the cooling Atlantic, is known for the exceptional quality of its Sauvignon Blanc.
The dryland vineyards of Durbanville, like those of Constantia, lie very close to Cape Town and border on the northern suburbs. Several estates and wineries, situated mainly on the rolling hill slopes with their various aspects and altitudes, continue to make a wide variety of wine styles. Wines from this ward attracting attention are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep soils, cooling sea breezes, night-time mists and close proximity to the ocean are beneficial factors when it comes to the quality of the grapes.
This semi-arid, elongated region stretches from Montagu, via higher-lying, cooler Barrydale towards Ladismith, Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn. It's known for relative extremes when it comes to soils and climate. The area is marked by a low and unreliable rainfall which averages only 200 mm per year. Viticulture takes place mainly in kloofs, valleys and riverine sites in a rugged mountainous landscape. Muscat varieties flourish here and the area is known for its sweet wines. Calitzdorp is famous for its port-style wines and here you'll find plantings of Tinta Barocca, Touriga Nacional and, on a small scale, Souzao.
The most northerly winegrowing area in the Cape, it's also the fourth largest, totalling in excess of 15 000 hectares, which stretch in close proximity to the Orange River. Predominantly a white grape area, reds are being increasingly planted. The wine grape varieties grown here are Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Chardonnay, Pinotage, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Muscadel (both red and white) and Muscat d'Alexandrie.
Large trellising systems are employed in this region of which the hut, gable and T-trellises are the most in use. These create special microclimates which protect the grapes, allowing them to ripen away from exposure to the direct rays of the sun. Specific mesoclimates are created within vineyards located on the islands between the different streams of the Orange River where the close proximity to the water cools down the grapes to a considerable degree. The conditions contribute to creating climate pockets which are conducive to production of better quality wines. The styles of wine produced by the various wineries along the 350 km stretch of river differ singularly in style and flavour from the eastern to the western wineries.
This region stretches in a belt from north to south along the broad valley of the Olifants River. The summers in this valley range from relatively warm to cool compared with some of South Africa's other wine areas and rainfall is low. Soils vary from sandy to red clay loams. With careful canopy management, which ensures grapes are shaded by the vines' leaves, combined with modern winemaking techniques, the Olifants River is proving to be a source of quality, value-for-money wines. The region incorporates several wards including cooler, higher-altitude Cederberg and Piekenierskloof.
Newer viticultural areas have opened up in this cool southerly district. The high-lying Elgin ward, cradled in the sandstone Hottentots Holland mountains, was traditionally an apple-growing region. Now wines showing exceptional fruit are produced here with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Shiraz doing particularly well in this late-ripening cooler zone. Award-winning wines are also emerging from the Kleinrivier ward near Stanford.
About 50 km from Cape Town, Paarl is situated beneath a large granite outcrop formed by three rounded domes, the prominent one named Paarl (which means pearl) rock. This scenic town is home to the KWV and the venue for the world-renowned Nederburg Auction. The summers are long and warm, and rainfall enough to make irrigation advantageous only in exceptional circumstances. A large variety of grapes are grown in Paarl, of which Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc have the best potential.
The Paarl district includes the wards of Franschhoek, the 'cuisine capital' of the Cape which has retained its French Huguenot character; Wellington, a burgeoning wine area which is producing some promising wines; and the newest wards, Simonsberg-Paarl, on the prime foothills of the Simonsberg, and Voor-Paardeberg.
The Franschhoek valley lies to the southeast of Paarl and is enclosed on three sides by towering mountains: the Groot Drakenstein and Franschhoek mountains which meet at the top of the valley and the Klein Drakenstein and Simonsberg mountains, found further down towards Paarl. Streams from the higher peaks flow down to the valley floor where they converge to form the Berg River, fast-flowing in winter when snow caps the peaks and a mere stream in summer, fed by the Wemmershoek Dam.
Some of the Wellington wineries stretch over alluvial terraces towards the Swartland's rolling hills and wheat fields, while others are found in the foothills of the towering Hawequa mountains, where folds and valleys create unique mesoclimates. Wellington, which supplies over 90% of the South African wine industry with cuttings, has some 30 grapevine nurseries, situated here due to the appropriate soils and warm summers. In winter, snow sometimes covers the mountain tops and night temperatures are generally cooler than at the coast some 60 km away.
A new ward north of Durbanville which also benefits from cooling Atlantic influences. The hilly terrain of this area means some of the vineyards are higher than usual, up to 260m above sea level. This facilitates a significant difference in day-night temperature and results in slower ripening. Some highly regarded Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots and red blends have already emerged from this promising appellation.
Dubbed the 'valley of vines and roses', the Robertson district's lime-rich soils make the area eminently suitable for racehorse stud farming and also, of course, winegrowing. Situated in the Breede River valley, the river is the lifeblood of this lower rainfall region. Although summer temperatures can be high, cooling south-easterly winds channel moisture-laden air into the valley.
Robertson is renowned for the quality of its wines and while traditionally considered white wine territory and known mainly for its Chardonnays and more recently for the quality of its Sauvignon Blanc, it is also the source of some of the Cape's finest red wines, particularly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, while the distinctive fortified dessert wines for which it was originally famed continue to be produced. The district of Robertson incorporates several wards, including Bonnievale.
The historical town of Stellenbosch, which features some of the finest examples of Cape Dutch architecture, boasts a winemaking tradition which stretches back to the end of the 17th-century. Stellenbosch, the 'town of oaks', is the educational and research centre of the winelands. Stellenbosch University is the only one in South Africa with a viticultural and oenological department, and many of the country's most successful winemakers studied there. The Elsenburg School of Agriculture is also near Stellenbosch, as is the Nietvoorbij Institute of Viticulture and Oenology. This organisation has one of the most modern experimental wineries in the world and, at its experimental farms (situated in several wine growing districts), important research into new varietals, clones and rootstocks is undertaken.
The mountainous terrain, good rainfall, deep well-drained soils and diversity of terroirs make this a sought-after viticultural area. The rapidly increasing number of wine estates and producers (in excess of 140) includes some of the most famous names in Cape wine. The district, with its mix of historic estates and contemporary wineries, produces excellent examples of almost all the noble grape varieties and is known for the quality of its blended reds.
The intensively farmed Stellenbosch district has been divided up into several smaller viticultural pockets including Jonkershoek Valley, Papegaaiberg, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, Bottelary, Devon Valley and Banghoek.
* Stellenbosch Wine Route, the oldest in the country and one of the most popular attractions in the Western Cape, has created several manageable sub-routes for tourists: Greater Simonsberg, Stellenbosch Mountain, Helderberg, Stellenbosch Hills and Bottelary Hills.
Traditionally a grain-producing area, in summer the Swartland district is marked by green pockets of vineyards clambering up the foothills of the mountains (Piketberg, Porterville, Riebeek, Perdeberg) and along the banks of the Berg River. In the past, the region was planted mainly to bushvines but trellising is increasingly being adopted due to advances in management strategies and quality considerations.
The Swartland was traditionally a source of robust, full-bodied red wines and high quality, fortified wines. In recent times, some exciting award-winning wines have emerged, both red and white, and the area continues to produce top port-style wines. Increasing percentages of Pinotage, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are being grown here, as well as Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. It has two designated wards, Malmesbury and Riebeekberg. The district of Swartland borders Piketberg to the north, which is not dissimilar in both geography and climate.
Surrounded on three sides by the great Winterhoek Mountains, the vineyards of the Tulbagh district grow alongside orchards and fields of wheat. Soils in the valley are extremely variable. The area is characterised by extreme differences in day and night temperatures. Mountainous terrain creates numerous different mesoclimates which can be used to great advantage.
Unique to the valley's geographical composition is the 'cold trap', a phenomenon which occurs as a result of the encapsulating mountains, shaped like a horseshoe, with Tulbagh situated at the north of the 'bowl'. Within this bowl, once a prehistoric lake, the cold air of the previous night lies undisturbed. With no air movement from the sides, this cold bubble is trapped under the warming air above as the sun makes its way from east to west. The result is relatively cool average daily temperatures.
The town of Tulbagh boasts 32 national monuments on one street, and here history and tradition work hand-in-hand with innovation. With today's high-tech water management and advanced viticultural practices, the true potential of this area is starting to be realised. At present there are some 16 wineries - several of them relative newcomers making acclaimed wines, notably, for example, with local cultivar Pinotage - in this secluded valley.
This recently demarcated district, surrounding the seaside town of Hermanus, is reputed for the benchmark Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines which emanate from here. The cool climate is the sought-after attribute in this area where vineyards benefit from persistent cooling winds from the nearby ocean. The soils - predominantly weathered shales - and terroir are also ideal for cool-climate loving varieties. The area boasts some of the best land-based whale watching in the world in season (June to November).
The Worcester District is the largest in terms of winegrowing area and volume. With around 18 750 ha planted, it accounts for nearly 20% of the national vineyards and produces close on 27% of South Africa's total volume of wine and spirits. It's also the most important brandy producing area and home to the KWV Brandy Cellar, the largest of its kind in the world. Several of these cellars are bottling quality wines under their own labels. This district covers a large proportion of the Breede River Valley and its tributaries. It is surrounded by mountains on three sides and borders Robertson to the east. There are marked variations between the soils and mesoclimates in the different river valleys.
This district comprises several wards. The Goudini ward has as its hub the village of Rawsonville, surrounded by vineyards which flourish on a flat landscape of alluvial valley soils with adequate drainage as they rest on a bed of river stones. There are some 18 wineries in a radius of 10 kilometres on the Breedekloof Wine Route.
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