In 1973, with the introduction of the Wine of Origin System, South Africa’s winelands were divided into a series of official regions, districts, wards and estates (in decreasing order of size, depending on the subdivision structure). South Africa’s vineyards are mostly situated in the Western Cape near the coast, but wine is also produced in the drier northern and eastern regions, namely Little Karoo, the Olifants River Valley and the lower Orange River. There are considerable differences in climate between these regions, which determine the viticultural practices and wine styles of each region.
The traditional viticultural regions of the Cape Peninsula and surrounding regions have a mainly Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and good winter rainfall, making irrigation unnecessary. From here, in a north-easterly direction towards the Little Karoo, the climate becomes progressively drier and warmer, with larger differences between summer and winter temperatures. Rain sometimes falls in summer months.
Constantia The historic Constantia valley was the site of Simon van der Stel’s 17th- century wine farm and the source of the Constantia dessert wines which were world famous during the 19th century. There are only a handful of cellars in the ward and these continue the tradition of producing excellent wine.
The vineyards cling to the slopes of Constantiaberg, an extension of Table Mountain below which the city of Cape Town and its suburbs spreads out. The vines benefit from shade cast by the mountain in the afternoon and from the cool sea breezes blowing in from False Bay only eight kilometres away. Rainfall is high and no irrigation is needed.
Darling In an area surrounded by quality vineyards, Darling is playing an increasingly visible role with its own wine route and several tourist attractions just an hour away from Cape Town. The Groenekloof ward, which benefits from being closest to the cooling Atlantic, falls within this recently demarcated district and is known for the exceptional quality of its Sauvignon Blanc.
Durbanville Durbanville, like Constantia, lies very close to Cape Town and some of the vineyards have been swallowed up by the city’s northern suburbs. Despite this, four estates and three wineries, situated mainly on the rolling hill slopes with their various aspects and altitudes, continue to make a wide variety of wine styles with the emphasis on reds, although they’re recognised for both their Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. Sea breezes moderate the summer heat.
Elim The newest of the maritime vineyards, this standalone ward is situated around the village of Elim, a Moravian mission settlement near Africa’s southernmost point, Cape Agulhas. Founded in 1824, the entire picturesque village is a national monument. Generating much interest in the winelands, its still small hectarage shows great promise.
Little Karoo This is an elongated region, running east to west from Montagu to Oudtshoorn. The climate is one of extremes with warm summers and lower rainfall. Vineyards tend to be planted in river valleys where water for irrigation is plentiful. The Little Karoo produces some of South Africa’s most renowned fortified wines. Also worth a look is Chenin Blanc, as this grape’s naturally high acidity and fruitiness make it particularly suitable for warmer areas.
Olifants River This region stretches in a belt from north to south along the broad valley of the Olifants River. Again, summers are relatively warm compared to some of South Africa’s other wine areas and rainfall is relatively low. Soils vary from sandy to red clay loams.
With careful canopy management which ensures grapes are shaded by the vines’ leaves combined with modern winemaking techniques, the Olifants River is rapidly emerging as an important source of good, value-for-money wines. The Olifants River region incorporates the wards of Vredendal, Spruitdrift, Lutzville Valley and Koekenaap, as well as the cooler, higher-altitude wards of Cederberg and Piekenierskloof.
Northern Cape The most northerly wine growing area in the Cape, it’s also the fourth largest. The warmest region, it stretches along the banks of the Orange River and totals in excess of 15 000 ha. Predominantly a white grape area, reds – in particular Merlot, Pinotage and Shiraz – are being increasingly planted.
Overberg Newer viticultural areas such as Bot River, Elgin, and Walker Bay have opened up in this cool southerly district. The latter, near the seaside town of Hermanus, is now the source of some of South Africa’s finest Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.
These vineyards, some of which are close to the sea, benefit from cool Atlantic breezes. The soils – predominantly weathered shales – and terroir are ideal for cool climate loving varieties.
Paarl Paarl, a scenic town about 50 km from Cape Town, is home to KWV and the venue for the world-renowned Nederburg Auction. In addition to these claims to fame, however, Paarl is also one of South Africa’s premier wine producing districts, and home to some of our most prestigious wine producers and progressive co-operatives. The climate is typically Mediterranean, the summers are long and warm, annual rainfall is approximately 650 mm – not as high as Constantia’s, for example, but enough to make irrigation less crucial except in exceptional circumstances. Local soils fall into three main types: Table Mountain sandstone near the Berg River, granite soils in the vicinity of Paarl itself and weathered shales to the north-east. A large variety of grapes are grown in Paarl, of which Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc have the best potential for producing export wines.
The Paarl District includes the wards of Franschhoek, which has retained its French Huguenot character that is strongly reflected in the wines; Wellington, a burgeoning wine area which is producing some promising wines; and the newest ward, Simonsberg-Paarl.
Piketsberg High summer temperatures occur in the Piketberg district and irrigation is common practice as a result of the low annual rainfall. Most of the wines are still made by co-operative cellars. The investment they have made in new technology, new vine clones and improved techniques in the vineyard has led to the emergence of a new generation of table wines at very reasonable prices.
Robertson Dubbed the ‘valley of vines and roses’, the Robertson district’s lime-rich soils make it eminently suitable for racehorse stud farming and also, of course, for good wine. The construction of a major dam at the beginning of the century brought reliable and inexpensive irrigation and this led to the proliferation of Robertson’s many wine estates and co-operatives.
Situated in the Breede River Valley region, the average annual rainfall is around 400 mm. Although summer temperatures can be high, cooling south-east winds from the coast – less than 100km away – channel moisture-laden air into the valley.
Today, Robertson is renowned for the quality of its wines and while traditionally considered white wine territory and known for its Chardonnays, it is also the source of some of the Cape’s most revered Shiraz, while the distinctive fortified dessert wines for which it was originally famed continue to be produced. The district of Robertson incorporates several wards.
Stellenbosch The beautiful historical town of Stellenbosch lies at the centre of South Africa’s premier wine-producing district and boasts a winemaking tradition that stretches back to the start of the 17th century. Stellenbosch University is the only university in South Africa with a viticultural and oenological department and many of the country’s most successful winemakers studied there. The Elsenburg School of Agriculture is also near Stellenbosch, as is the Nietvoorbij Institute of Viticulture and Oenology. This organisation has one of the most modern experimental wineries in the world. At its experimental farms (situated in several wine growing districts), important research into new varietals, clones and rootstocks is undertaken.
Conditions in this district are particularly well suited to many of the noble vine varieties. The Hutton and Clovelly soils of the valley floors give way to more granite soils on the mountain slopes. The average rainfall varies from 600 to 800 mm a year.
The rapidly increasing number of wine estates and producers (in excess of 110) include some of the most famous names in Cape wine. The district, with its mix of historic estates and contemporary wineries, produces excellent examples of almost all the noble grape varieties and is known for the quality of its blended reds.
The intensively farmed Stellenbosch district has been divided up into several smaller viticultural pockets including Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, Jonkershoek, Bottelary, Devon Valley, Helderberg, Papegaaiberg, Koelenhof and Vlottenburg.
*Stellenbosch Wine Route, the first wine route in the country, has created several manageable sub-regions for tourists: Greater Simonsberg, Stellenbosch Mountain, Helderberg, Stellenbosch Hills and Bottelary Hills.
Swartland The district of Swartland, which falls within the Coastal Region, borders Piketberg to the north and is not dissimilar in both geography and climate. Malmesbury shale is the predominant soil type found here.
The Swartland, with its rolling golden wheatfields punctuated by green vineyards, was traditionally a source of robust, full-bodied red wines and high quality, fortified wines. In recent times some exciting award-winning wines have emerged, both red and white, and the area continues to produce top ports. Wards include Riebeekberg.
Tulbagh Surrounded on three sides by the great Winterhoek Mountains, the vineyards of the Tulbagh district grow alongside orchards and fields of wheat. Soils in the valley are extremely variable, from sandy soils on the valley floor to very stony soils on the mountain slopes. Summer temperatures are warm, although mountainous terrain creates numerous different micro-climates which can be used to great advantage.
With today’s high-tech water management and advanced viticultural practices, the true potential of this area is starting to be realised. At present there are two co-operatives and several wineries – some of them relative newcomers – in this secluded valley.
Worcester The Worcester District, with 19 co-operatives, annually contributes a quarter of South Africa’s total wine production. It is also the most important brandy producing area and home of the KWV Brandy Cellar, the largest of its kind in the world. Over the past few years, however, several of these large cellars have started bottling small quantities of quality wines under their own labels.
This district covers a large proportion of the Breede River Valley and its tributaries. It is surrounded by mountains on three sides and borders Robertson to the east. There are marked variations between the soils and microclimates in the different river valleys.
On the way to Worcester from Cape Town you’ll find the village of Rawsonville, surrounded by vineyards that flourish in these fertile valley soils, which have excellent drainage as they rest on a bed of river stones, and on the surrounding hills of shale. There are approximately 13 wine cellars in a radius of 10 kilometres.