It is 21 years since Apartheid ended and South African wine has been available on international markets. I have visited South Africa on numerous occasions to buy wine and seen how the country’s wine industry has advanced.
There is a strong belief among many winemakers that South Africa must work with and improve their native varieties and not plant new varieties just because they are popular. SouthAfrica is a country rich in old bush vines, some of the oldest in world, especially with Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. Over the last ten years 40% of the countries vineyards have been replanted. Curiously, old vineyards that had been ignored are now considered a great asset. The areas where the best vines are grown have are being identified, cultivated and promoted by individual producers, viticulturists and farmers.
The best winemakers are working with grapes picked from older vineyards Ken Forrester Winery in Stellenbosch, where they make the superb Chenin Blanc. Ken Forrester is known as Mr Chenin Blanc having taken this grape from a lowly stature to winning international awards. Also Tim Martin, one of the new generation of top winemakers, makes very fine Chenin Blanc from 50-year-old vineyard near Joostenberg in Paarl. Another winery to look out for is Rijks Winery in the Coastal Region where winemaker Pierre Wall makes superb Pinotage and Shiraz.
Many growers are experimenting with imported varietals that should suit the local conditions. In fact 60 European clones have been imported to discover which varieties are most suited to particular areas. This will take time but will be crucial for the long term health of the wine industry. Garnacha, Mourvedre, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier. Even Greek varieties could find a natural home in the Cape.
Charles Back owner of Fairview is another top winemaker who makes his Spice Route range made from Garnacha, Mourvedre, Pinotage and Sauvignon Blanc. His Goats do Roam range were made with typical grapes from the Rhone Valley in France planted in South Africa.
I recently ran into Jackie Rabé, Marketing Director at Strandveld Wines, Africa’s most southerly winery just 11km from the Atlantic Ocean. This winery is located in a wild, wind swept area very different in many ways from the warmer regions such as Stellenbosch. There are very wineries in this area but the wines are superb and show the diversity of styles that exists.
South Africa has come a long way in a relatively short time. During the next ten years we will see some world class wines coming onto the market. The new generation of winemakers are freer to make wines as they please I am sure that in the years ahead some South African wines will be making headlines for all the right reasons.