Three hundred years of wine growing
South Africa is now one of the top ten wine producing countries in the world. It was not until the late 80s that the export market began to open up to the country's wines, which in turn lead to wide ranging changes in organisation and production, including the adoption of modern production techniques and more popular grape varieties. The success of these developments can be seen in the enormous rise in the quality and popularity of South African wines over the last ten years, which has seen exports rise to over 50% of total wine production.
Despite the 'New World' category given to it, South African wines have had a long history. The first recorded wine produced in South Africa was in 1659 by Jan van Riebeeck, the founder of Cape Town. That was followed by the establishment of the Cape's first formal wine estate and still one of the best known wineries, Groot Constantia in 1685 by Simon van der Stel, the then Govenor of the Cape. Since then, the wine industry has expanded to cover much of the fertile land in the Western Cape Province.
The Cape Winelands is the largest wine producing area in South Africa and is divided into a classification of regions, districts and wards; amongst these, Constantia, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl, Robertson and Wellington are the most well known.
Equally important are the many grape varieties that are now grown across the regions. The most popular white varieities are chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, colombard and chardonnay and the red grapes being pinotage, shiraz, cabinet sauvignon, pinot noir and merlot. In all, some 29 varieties are grown and increasingly South African wineries are leading the way with novel and unusual blends of these grapes.
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Constantia, the first of the wine regions, is situated in mountainous surroundings and is home to some of the oldest wine estates in the country. Wine estates worth visiting are Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, Buitenverwachting and Steenberg. Main grape variets are mainly whites, being Sauvignon, semillon and muscat.
The Stellenbosch wine region is the best known in the Cape and boasts some of the finest examples of Cape Dutch architecture. It is an intensively farmed district and genrally recognised now as the wine capital of South Africa. There are in excess of 160 wine estates and producers which include some of the most famous names in Cape wine, such as Tokara, Delaire Graff, Spier, Guardian Peak and the historic Vergelegen wine estate in Somerset West. The region is known for its reds and red blends, such as cabinet sauvignon, merlot and shiraz.
Paarl is situated beneath a large granite outcrop formed by three rounded domes, the prominent one named Paarl (which means pearl) rock. For much of the 20th century, before the industry began its renaissance in the 80s, it was the heart of the South African wine industry. It was dominated by the original co-operative KWV, now its own wine estate, which is still based there. The region is known for its reds, such as shiraz, pinotage and merlot.
The Franschhoek Valley, settled by the 17th century Huguenots, has developed a very 'French' style to its estates and wines. It is known as the 'food and wine' capital of South Africa. Wine estates to visit are La Motte, Boschendal, Haute Cabriere, Anthonij Rupert Wines and Grande Provence. It is recognised for its full flavoured wines from cabinet sauvignon, semillon and chardonnay.
The Breede Rover Valley to the north and east of Franschhoek incorporates the Robertson district, known for its chardonnay and shiraz wines, and the Worcester district which is known for its branfy, fortified and dessert wines.
Many of the wineries are open to the public and enjoy inviting guests to see their farms and sample the wines and other produce. In many cases, the wineries also have restaurants which are open for lunch and dinner offering guests the opportunity to try their wines matched with magnificent food cooked by local chefs.
Views of the Winelands
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