Located in the Western Cape, South Africa Wine Country (also known as the Winelands) is stunningly beautiful and home to over 300 vineyards. Depending on your vantage point, you can take in views of the vines, mountains, and sea all at the same time, just by turning your head. It makes the top ten list of the world’s largest wine producers and is quickly becoming one of the hottest new culinary capitals of the world.
Here are 5 interesting facts about South Africa Wine Country that you may not know:
1. South Africa Is Home to One Of The Oldest Wine Countries Outside Europe
South Africa’s winemaking history begins well over 350 years ago. The Dutch settlers and French Huguenots brought vines from their home countries and established vineyards to provide wine to the merchant ships of the Dutch East India Company. Taking advantage of the fertile soil, they quickly put their knowledge of growing wine grapes to good use and therefore helping to establish the wine industry in South Africa. The first vineyard was planted in 1655 and the first recorded vintage was released in 1659. Since then, South Africa’s grape industry has grown to more than 10,000 producers, more than half of whom produce wine grapes.
2. South Africa Has Its Own Unique Wine – Pinotage
Many different grape varietals thrive in South Africa’s fertile soil, which in turn allows for a wide variety of wines to be available including Pinotage, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are currently the most widely planted varietals in South Africa, but Pinotage is the only one that is unique to South Africa.
Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. It was developed in 1925 by Abraham Perold, Stellenbosch’s first professor of viticulture. (read more on University of Stellenbosch in fact #4 below) According to Wine Enthusiast, “[Pinotage] produces deep red wines high in tannins with smoky dark fruit flavors accented by earthy bramble characteristics. [It] is also commonly blended with other varieties, producing what is referred to as a Cape Blend in South Africa.”
It can be somewhat of a polarizing wine – some people love it, others can’t stand it. You’ll have to taste a few and make your mind up for yourself!
3. There’s More To South African Wine Country Than Stellenbosch.
Though Stellenbosch is certainly the most widely known wine producing region in South Africa and should be a must-visit stop, there are many other regions producing incredible wine worth checking out.
Stellenbosch is both a wine area and a historic town that is a part of the Western Cape’s Coastal Region located just 25 miles outside of Cape Town. You’ll find mostly Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux Blends here.
Constantia was established in the late 1600s as South Africa’s first wine region by the second governor of the Cape of Good Hope, Simon van der Stel (whom Stellenbosch is named after). Originally known for its dessert wine called Vin de Constance, it is now well known for its high end Sauvignon Blancs, Bordeaux blends, and a more modern dessert wine, Muscat Blanc.
Franschoek was settled more than 300 years ago by the French Huguenots, who brought with them their age-old wine and food culture. It is home to several of South Africa’s top 100 restaurants and has become known as the country’s culinary capital. Franschoek is known for its full-bodied red wines featuring Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Paarl is the second oldest wine area and is home to several of South Africa’s historic wine cellars. Paarl is known for it’s spicy reds, Shiraz in particular, and its crisp whites. Paarl is also known for producing the first white Pinotage, Pinotage-fortified dessert wine, and the first wine blend of Tempranillo, Tannat, and Tinta Amarella.
4. Don’t Just Taste The Wine, Learn How To Make It
The University of Stellenbosch, located in the center of its namesake town, is jointly the oldest university in South Africa and the oldest extant university in Sub-Saharan Africa (alongside the University of Cape Town). It has a long history of teaching subjects that encompass both how to grow wine grapes and how to make wine itself. In fact, training in viticulture and oenology was offered in the 1880s before it was even recognized as an official university. Today, it is in close association with the South African grape and wine industry.
5. Brandy Used To Be King
Due to South Africa being an important stop on the Dutch East Indies Company’s trade route, brandy has played an important role in the South Africa economy for a very long time. Wine on its own would turn to vinegar while on long sea journeys. By distilling the wine and creating brandy, it would preserve the wine making it drinkable for months to come. Though we may not have exposure to it in US markets, the South African brandy industry is still going strong and has a place among the world’s great brandy producers. For a great write up on South African Brandy, check out this Forbes article.