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South Africa

Wine from the “Dark Continent”? To many European
and American wine drinkers, this is a strange concept. In fact, there
are vineyards all over Africa. Algeria and Morocco have been producing
wines for decades and modern winemaking has been set up
in places like Zimbabwe and Kenya.
But it is down south in the Cape, where climactic and topographic
conditions simulate those of the old wine countries, that
the continent’s finest wines are produced. Today the best of South
African wine is up there with the rest, while in the “easy-drinking”
category no one beats us.
History has a way with wine
and the Cape’s wine culture,
which goes back 350 years, is
one that reflects the country’s sad
colonial and apartheid past, but
also shines with the potential and
expectation of the modern wine
world.
From that long history
comes a wine tradition of tastes and styles with its roots in the classic
“Old World” of France, Germany and Italy, but also an acute
awareness of the contemporary consumer, as has been defined by
wine-making in the “New World” of California and Australia.
It has often been said that South African wine is in the unique
position of straddling both those wonderful worlds. It offers marketing
possibilities that can be harnessed for the challenges of the
new global economy. It can offer the wine-drinking world all kinds
of new flavour experiences. It can also show the way to handle
such sensitive issues as labour relations in the reality of the beautiful
Cape wine lands.
Wine for the modern market
In the post-apartheid era since 1994, South African wine has
returned to the world arena with significant impact, growing from some
50-million litres exported that year to topping 139-million in 2000.
Internationally, the industry is small, ranking 16th with about
1.5% of global plantings, but production, at seventh position,
accounts for 3% of the world’s wine.
As in most established wine-producing countries, new plantings
are taking place at a pace and new varieties of wine grapes as
well as new regions are being explored as the country finds itself at
the frontline of modern market requirements.
White varieties still represent more than two-thirds of thetotal, but this has moved from an imbalance of 15% red and 85%
white in 1990. In 2000 more than 80% of all new plantings were
red, with shiraz, cabernet and merlot at the top of the list. At the
same time, 87% of all vines uprooted were white, mostly chenin
blanc, white French and colombard.
There is a shift from chardonnay to sauvignon blanc, a varietal
which lends itself to a larger range of styles and quality levels.
Chronicle of Cape culture
The very first vineyard planted coincided with the arrival in
southern Africa of the settlers from Europe. In 1655, three years
after his arrival in Table Bay, commander Jan van Riebeeck of the
Dutch East-India Company planted the first vines. In 1659 he
wrote his famous report: “Today, praise the Lord, wine was
pressed from Cape grapes for the first time.”
After Van Riebeeck, it was governor Simon van der Stel who
firmly established the wine industry in the Cape. He built the
model farm Constantia and founded the town of Stellenbosch.
Both are still considered focal points of quality winemaking.
During the 18th century, Constantia’s famous dessert wines
established the Cape as a premium wine producer and its reputation
was romantically global. Meanwhile Stellenbosch grew as a
hub of viticultural endeavours, including being home to experiments
that led, in 1925, to cinsaut and pinot noir grapes being
grafted together into pinotage, a “local” variety well suited to
indigenous conditions.
By the end of the 19th century local vineyards and production
were in decline. As in Europe, phylloxera had taken its toll. To
control production and the market, a large farmers’ co-operative,
the KWV, was established in 1918.
In 1925 Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery was founded. (The latter
merged with another large producer, Distillers Corporation, in 2001
and Distell is today, size-wise, a player on the international stage
with sales of R2.7 billion or $234.8million.)
During the apartheid years the industry was turned inward
and international trade diminished as sanctions took hold.
With the advent of democracy in 1994, the wine industry,
which had been largely in the hands of white owners and producers,
was forced to adapt. The KWV was dismantled into a commercially
driven venture in 1997, and, together with other players,
formed the South African Wine Industry Trust in 1999 to promote
transformation of the wine industry.
Most owners are still white, but recent years have seen black
partnerships and others coming into the industry. In 2001 a handson
project, the Vineyard Academy, was launched to provide vineyard
workers with skills training in various fields.
Although consumption of wine in South Africa has not
increased for some years, there are now positive signs that some
of the bigger brand producers are looking at the potential of the
urban black market.
Wines of South Africa

Last edited on 9/1/2008 by fingers

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