Currently 110,200 hectares of vines producing wine grapes are under cultivation in South Africa over an area some 800 kilometres in length. However, of these 11,595 hectares are under sultanas, used only for distilling wine for brandy. White varietals constitute 55% of the plantings for wine, with Chenin Blanc plantings comprising 20% of the total. Red varietals account for 45% of the national vineyard. The most widely planted red varietal is Cabernet Sauvignon, accounting for 15% of the total. Shiraz now accounts for 9%, while Pinotage, which is indigenous to South Africa, and Merlot each represent 7%.
The local wine industry as a whole is strengthening its focus on five noble varietals and is primarily replanting, on a large scale, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz, and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. In line with shifting market demands and the growth of red wine consumption, the industry rapidly increased its plantings of red wine varietals, which in 2000 and 2001 constituted over 80% of all new plantings. This fell to 65% in 2002 and to 51% in 2003.
In 1999, plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon increased by 82% on the previous year’s figures and by 31% in 2000. The most dramatic growth has been in the plantings of Shiraz. This was the number one variety planted in 1999 and 2000. In 2003, Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for 40,5% of all red wine varieties planted. At the same time, lesser white varieties are being uprooted and replanted to noble varietals. Over 2800 hectares of white wine vineyards were uprooted in 2003, representing 73% of all vines uprooted that year.
Some 257,000 people are employed both directly and indirectly in the wine industry, including farm laborers, those involved in packaging, retailing and wine tourism. Wine tourism employs over 59 000 of these people. According to a study, commissioned by the SA Wine Industry Information & Systems (SAWIS), a body supplying data to the local wine industry, and conducted in 2004, the wine industry contributes 8.2% to the Western Cape’s gross geographic product (GGP). The study also concluded that of the R16.3 billion gross domestic product (GDP) contributed by the wine industry to the regional economy, some R4.2 billion was generated indirectly through wine-tourism activities centred in the winelands.
About R11.4 billion eventually would remain in the Western Cape to the benefit of its residents.
In terms of world wine production, South Africa ranks as number nine in volume production of wine and produces 3.1% of the world’s wine.
Of the country’s total annual harvest of 956m litres in 2003, 75% was devoted to the making of good wine, 5% to brandy, 7% to grape concentrate and the balance to grape spirit.
Exports of natural (i.e., non-fortified) bottled wines for the 2003 calendar year reached 237.3m litres, an increase of 10% on the previous year. Red wine exports grew by 13% to account for 45% of all natural wines exported.
Varietals which showed the most export growth in the case of bottled wines during 2003 compared to the previous year were Shiraz, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. (Reliable value statistics are not available.)
Transformation of the Wine Industry
For more than 350 years, the cultures of Africa, Europe and the East have mingled in Cape Town, gateway to the South African winelands, a city rich in colorful history and culturally vibrant. It was here that Nelson Mandela, in 1990, took his historic walk to freedom. Today South Africa, a country of enormous diversity, is a peaceful democracy, home to the ‘rainbow nation’.
The breaking down of political barriers and the redressing of historical wrongs in South Africa is seeing people from disadvantaged communities emerge as wine farmers and winemakers in the Cape winelands for the first time. Historically, they provided the labor on which the industry is based. Currently, over 100,000 people from historically disadvantaged groups are employed directly in the industry, which supports a total of over 215,000 jobs in the wider economy.
Part of the process of redressing imbalances is an ongoing education drive, spearheaded by various trusts and initiatives. A number of Cape wine farmers have also established joint ventures with their workers to give them part ownership and to transfer skills in wine farm management as well as winemaking. There have also been a number of private initiatives to extend vineyard ownership to communities living in winemaking regions, where proceeds from wine sales are used to improve the quality of life of residents.
These ventures have established several highly successful labels, including New Beginnings, Freedom Road, Fair Valley, Thandi, Helderkruin, Uitzicht and Winds of Change, which are selling well in UK and European markets. US and Far Eastern markets have also begun purchasing these wines. While interest may have been sparked by the political nature of these projects, the wines themselves have been lauded for their quality, and export support for these brands continues to grow. Several other empowerment projects are currently in the planning stages, scheduled to launch their wines in the near future.