South Africa as a Wine Region
The South African vineyards have a long tradition and their wines became popular at the beginning of the 19th century in Britain and. Indeed, in many European countries. Competition from countries able to get wines quickly to the main consumers, however, presented the winemakers with serious problems in more recent times, and it has been due to the conscientious maintenance of quality and the efficiency of the way in which they have organised themselves that production is able to expand. The wine growers’ co-operative, the K.W.V. (from the Afrikaans words), have five huge wineries and are able to conduct experiments of world interest with both vines and winemaking.
The vineyards are, roughly, in two main regions: the coastal region near the Cape, and that beyond the mountains of the Little Karoo, to the east. All types of table and fortified wines are made, and some sparkling wine, many of them from classic wine grapes specially imported. There is also a curious grape called Steen: at one time thought to have originated with the first p’lantings of vines 3 centuries ago, and now virtually a native of South Africa. This is now known to be the Chenin Blanc, which makes white wine, both dry and slightly additionally sweet especially when late vintaged. The wines made like sherry, sometimes using the Steen grape and also the Frandsdruift (the South African name for the Palomino) for the drier wines, are probably the most famous. They first became popular in the U.K. Because of their low prices, due to a lower rate of Customs duty on Commonwealth wines in earlier times.
In the U.K., South African wines are often distributed by S.A.W.F.A. (the South African Wine Farmers’ Association). For many years, this body put up a blind tasting of South African sherries with some from Spain, so that visitors might see if they could detect any difference. It is possibly fair to say that this was extremely difficult with the medium and sweet wines – especially if the Spanish wines were not of the first quality! But even the finos, made with imported and even some native ‘flor’, are wines that deserve appreciation in their own right. Good fortified dessert wines are also made.
The white table wines are possibly better known than the red, and those made from the Steen grape, Chenin Blanc, or the Riesling can be excellent drinks. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsaut and other classic grapes make good red wines and there are plantings of other classic wine grapes, also the native Pinotage evolved at the Cape. There is also a considerable amount of brandy made, although this last is not often seen in export markets. The most famous liqueur made in South Africa is the orange flavoured Van der Hum.
There are many big estates, making a range of wines, including Twee Jongegezellen at Tulbagh; Nederberg, Bellingham, and Schoongezicht, the first just outside Paarl, the great centre and K.W.V. Headquarters, and the two latter between Paarl and Stellenbosch. Other estates making first-rate wines, red and white, include Overgaauw, Uitkyk, Meerlust, Fairview, Backsberg and many more. Port type wines are also made, those of the Allesverloren estate being very good.