Like the history of the country, the history of South African wine is a story that oozes adventure, trade, long geographical movements and diverse people. It is one of the most prestigious regions in the production of great whites, its wines have enchanted great historical figures such as Napoleon.
The history of South African wine dates back to the 17th century, when a group of Dutch mercenaries landed at the Cape of Good Hope with the intention of setting up a station on the famous spice route for the East India Company. It was Jan van Riebeeck, head of the expedition, who in 1652, ordered the first vines to be brought from Europe.
From that moment on and during the s. The first estates were created in areas close to Cape Town, called Constantia, specialized in the Muscat de Frontignan variety, producing wines that aroused much interest in Europe, even becoming Napoleon’s favorite wine during his final exile in St. Helena.
Currently, South Africa has more than 100,000 hectares dedicated to vine cultivation. The predominant varieties are Steen (Chemin Blanc), and Colombard, as well as Pinotage (hybrid between Pinot Noir and Cinsault).
At the end of the 1990s, 80% of vineyards were dedicated to the production of white wine; today, this figure has been reduced to around 55% and the diversity has been extended to include red, rosé, fortified and sparkling wines.
South Africa has a geography with a certain European flair and a Mediterranean climate, with long, hot summers and mild, wet winters, which presents ideal conditions for viticulture. The notorious influence of the ocean, with clouds that reduce maximum temperatures, causes cool nights conducive to prolonged ripening periods.
The closer we are to the coast, the more the vineyards depend on a climate that is not always advisable for growing and making wine. Consequently, the different vintages acquire a similar relevance to those of European wines.
The country is divided into several wine regions: Breede River Valley, Cape South Coast, Coastal Region, Klein Karoo, Olifants River and Boberg. These, in turn, are divided into districts, among which Constantia, Stellenboch, Paarl, Franschhock, Roberston, Elgin and Walker Bay stand out, which have led with their production and elaboration to be one of the most prominent references of the wines known as new world wines.
In Constantia, the cradle of South African wine, Chardonnay and Sauvignon are the predominant varieties, which in this climate achieve a fresh and vegetal expression, with herbaceous notes; in this region we find some of the most important wineries in the country such as Vergelegen y Klein Constantia.
In Stellenboch, South Africa’s best known region, its particular and varied geography and climatology have led to a wide and diverse production of wines from Riesling grapes to Cap Classique (South African version of Champagne). Region of magnificent white wines, Sauvignon and Chardonnay aged in barrels, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends. All of these wines can be discovered at wineries such as De Trafford and Waterford.
On the other hand, the Paarl plains , where we stumbled upon the winery
are at the same latitude as Jéréz and are known for the production of a wine similar to the Andalusian one from the varieties Colombard, Chenin Blanc and Palomino.
Less well known, perhaps, are the regions of Franschhoek, of Huguenot tradition and origin, famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay, and Bordeaux varieties in reds and where the winery is located. Boekenhoutskloof with its famous wine The Chocolate Block; RobertsonThe region of marshes and mountains where the special finesse of its wines made from Chardonnay stands out, and where a visit to Graham Beck y Rosendal or the regions of Walker Bay y ElginThe wineries, which have been dedicated to cultivation for no more than 30 years, specialize in Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon varieties.