South African Wine

Sometimes, truth sounds stranger than fiction. When in February, 1659 Jan van Riebeeck first produced wine in South Africa, christening it ‘Vin de Constance’, he never knew that he would be leaving a legacy that would continue long after his death. Yes, we never know when it is the start of something big, until much later than when the event first takes place. Take for example the South African wine – the country was famous for its wildlife and mines and also for its policies of Apartheid, but not for wine making. But all that changed.

Later, Constantia estate was set up in a valley that faced the False Bay and Riebeeck’s wine soon had a reasonable reputation. However, Hendrik Cloete was the person who took over the estate in 1778, further improving upon the beverage by way of blending it with Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains while renaming the product as Constantia.

The reputation of Constantia went so far and wide that it became the most favorite drink of eminent European Emperors and Kings, right from Frederick to Napoleon. However, as luck would have it, the vineyards got destructed by Phylloxera shortly thereafter, and the Cloete’s (the family running the show) was bankrupt as a result. In desolation, the estate was sold off and was taken over by the government on an experimental basis. Then it was 1980, when Duggie Jooste purchased it over, redeveloped the affair and they are currently selling once again a modern version of “Vin de Constance”.

The first cooperative wine farming in South Africa was started on 2nd February 1918 when Western Cape region’s grape growers set up the KWV or the Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Bpkt. Today, South Africa forms a significant part of the ‘New World’ wine producing countries with around 60 appellations that are found in the Wine of Origin or the WO system that was set up in 1973. It has a hierarchy of production areas that are designated and come as both districts as well as wards. Three more ‘Geographical Units’ have recently ben sanctioned that are likely to cover several WO areas as also some more additional wards and districts.

However there have been a few restrictions imposed on South African wine making. Here is a kind of restriction that was imposed – WO wines need to be made absolutely from within the area that was designated. ‘Single Vineyard’ wines should be made from an area that is previously defined and cannot exceed 5 hectares.

‘Estate Wine’ may come from the adjacent farms provided they have been farmed together. The wine needs to be also produced in the site. The restrictions also stipulate that a ward will mean an area that has a unique soil type as well as climatic conditions. Seemingly, this is more or less the same as the appellations in Europe. Also, a district is designated to contain a number of terroirs, but a ward cannot, and that’s precisely the reason that made Cape Point, having just 1 winery a district, but not a ward.

These regulations have already proved beneficial to South Africa’s potential growth as a wine making nation, allowing it to compete with other established world class exporters.