South Africa – a land of immense beauty, the wine areas in particular nestling among mountain ranges, deep valleys and rolling plains. These regions lie primarily in the Atlantic Western Cape spiralling from Cape Town’s mighty Table Mountain down to Constantia, and out to Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek and further north to Swartland and Olifants River; east to Worcester and Robertson and south to Elgin and Walker Bay close to the Indian Ocean coast. It is a huge and diverse area, benefitting from a mainly benign Mediterranean climate and prevailing Ocean winds, nevertheless still subject to the occasional drought.
The Dutch and French arrived about 400 years ago, many to settle, and some on their way to the ‘Indies’. The settlers, while developing the land also planted vines: for example the now famous ‘wines of Constantia’and shipped back to Europe and the U.S. It was very well received as a Muscat-style dessert wine, Vin de Constance, and, it is said, enjoyed by Napoleon, Frederick the Great and George Washington!
The old vines were hit by the Phylloxera blight of the late 1800’s and the upheavals of the 20th century – culminating in the trade sanctions of the apartheid era – were not conducive to a burgeoning wine industry. Thankfully since the mid 90’s, there has been a wondrous expansion, with a plethora of flourishing vineyards, serious investment and old and new world expertise. While Stellenbosch is no doubt still accepted as the most important of the fine wine areas, world class wines are being produced throughout the Western Cape and Orange River.
The signature wine is Pinotage – a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, developed locally – in the style of Beaujolais. Amongst the thriving reds: Shiraz and the ‘Bordeaux Blend’ of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Chenin Blanc has been widely grown over many years and is still today the most planted and certainly still extremely successful.
South Africa has long been a mecca for tourists not only for safaris but also the beauty of its landscapes and many wine estates now encompass first-class hotels, restaurants and golf courses. The last 25 years of an ever expanding and successful industry have also seen important social changes. These incorporate for the local communities much improved housing and educational benefits, better wages and a much more inclusive attitude. This augurs well for the future of the entire country.
Anyway, where else are you going to see Indian Runner Ducks running – indeed, not waddling – through the vineyards as pest control operatives!