SOUTH AFRICA

 

 

South Africa is one of the most prominent wine-producing countries in the Southern Hemisphere. With more than 300 years of winemaking history, it is often described as bridging the gap between the Old World and New. The majority of wines are made using New World winemaking techniques but often have more in common stylistically with their Old World counterparts. Since the end of apartheid South African wine has enjoyed international attention and acclaim for its wide variety of styles.

South Africa's wine industry is distributed around the lush, rugged landscape of the Western Cape. Here, the abundance of mountains, valleys and plateaus allow winemakers to produce a diverse range of styles. Vineyards are also found in the Northern Cape's Orange River region, where the flat, barren landscape is dominated by the Kalahari Desert. Most of South Africa's wine-producing regions have a Mediterranean climate, significantly influenced by the meeting of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

The country's signature variety is Pinotage, an indigenous crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsautthat is rarely found in quantity in any other wine-producing country. Shiraz is widely planted also, as are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (often found together in a Bordeaux Blend).

However white grape varieties account for 55 percent of the country's 96,000 hectares (237,000 acres) of vineyards. Chenin Blanc is the republic's most planted grape with 18.5 percent of all plantings. While it has not retained its earlier dominance within vineyards as a source of brandy and fortified wines, it retains its number one position having largely transitioned into a role providing crisp dry white wines.

South African Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have become popular internationally in recent years. In fact The Wine of Origin system, a legal structure introduced in 1972 to acknowledge and protect the diversity of terroir in the country, classifies South Africa into the regions, districts and wards where vineyards are found.

Vines were first planted in South Africa by Dutch settlers in the 1650s, although wine production did not really begin to take off until French Huguenots arrived with viticultural skills and knowledge in the 1680s. South Africa's oldest wine estate is located in Constantia, where the production of the legendary dessert wine Vin de Constance gave the region worldwide fame in the 18th and 19th centuries. Stellenbosch is equally historic as a wine-producing region, the first vineyards having been planted here in the 1690s.

The South African wine industry suffered numerous setbacks during the 19th and 20th centuries. A devastating outbreak of phylloxera in the 1860s severely reduced the vineyard area. The subsequent replanting - often using high-yielding grape varieties such as Cinsaut - led to large-scale overproduction, prompting the South African government to fund the Kooperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika (the South African Co-Operative Wine Growers Association, better known as KWV).

Throughout the 20th Century, KWV restricted the production of wines in such a way that innovation was near impossible and quantity was prioritized over quality. Yields were restricted and minimum prices set at a level which encouraged production of brandy and fortified wine. KWV's control over the South African wine sector lasted until the 1990s, and even now, the country's industry is unusual for its high number of co-operatives.

South African wine fell out of favor internationally during the 20th Century, reaching an all time low when trade sanctions were placed on the country in the 1980s due to its apartheid policies. Nelson Mandela's release in 1990 and subsequent elction as President reinvigorated the industry: wines from the Rust en Vrede estate in Stellenbosch were served at his 1993 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony dinner in Oslo, Norway.

In 2016, South Africa was the seventh largest producer of wine in the world in terms of overall volume, responsible for 3.9 percent of global wine output. More than 300,000 people are employed in the industry; given the country's history much attention is paid to worker welfare and many wineries have created specific brands to assist programmes such as house-building and educational provision.

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