South Africa boasts a long history of viticulture, dating back more than 300 years. The most respected wine region on the Cape remains around the town of Stellenbosch. Here, wineries take advantage of cooling southerly breezes from False Bay, known locally as “the Cape Doctor.” This tempering sea breeze inhibits the development of disease in the vineyards, and also extends the ripening period, thus allowing for big, well-structured red wines to develop. Vineyards in Stellenbosch also benefit from this Mediterranean-style climate, which results in optimum berry ripeness. Finally, the soil in the region, a mixture of weathered granite and clay, shows good water retention, which allows for only moderate vine stress during the dry years. All of these characteristics of the South African terroir combine to produce award-winning red wines.
While the rest of the wine world was rapidly modernizing in the second half of the 20th century, South Africa was largely stuck in the past, due economic sanctions imposed on the country. However, the end of Apartheid in 1994 eliminated these sanctions, and in the years to follow South African wine producers worked feverishly to catch up to the rest of the world.
Their work has more than paid off, since the South African wine industry has emerged as one of the most dynamic and exciting in the world. Wines from this region are garnering impressive reviews from critics, including the following from Stephen Tanzer of International Wine Cellar:
“South Africa should be one of the first places to look for excellent affordable wines. If your preferences run to sweeter, riper, more fruit-driven New World reds, South Africa would be near the top of my list of choices. South Africa is a source of world-class wines.”