A colony was first established at the Southern tip of Africa in 1652, by the Dutch East Indian Trading Company. This Cape Colony was established as a refreshment station for the Dutch merchant fleet, on their way to India. The first vines were planted at the Cape Colony in 1655, long before wine was produced in other popular New World regions, like Australia, New Zealand and California.
The Constantia Region is considered the cradle of the South African wine industry. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Cape garnered international renown for its legendary Constantia dessert wines. The famed wines of Constantia were sought after by aristocracy and royalty. These legendary wines were drunk by the King of England, Frederick the Great, King Louis Philippe of France, and were specially requested by Napoleon, during his banishment to Elba. The Constantia wines were so famous, they made their way into the literature of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.
The Cape wine-growing regions have a Mediterranean climate, with the towering Cape mountain ranges providing a dramatic backdrop to one of the most beautiful wine-growing regions in the world. The vineyards are planted on valley floors, on hills, and on steep mountain slopes, with cooling influences from the Atlantic and Indian oceans, as well as from sea breezes, maritime mist and a notorious South Easterly wind known colloquially as the ‘Cape Doctor’.
This wine district includes the wards of Cape Point, Constantia, Durbanville, Hout Bay and Philadelphia. Although a wide variety of both the red and white noble varieties are planted in this district, it has garnered acclaim particularly for its Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and award-winning white Bordeaux-style blends. Constantia is also the home of some spectacular dessert wines, the most famous example being the Klein Constantia ‘Vin de Constance’, produced from Muscat de Frontignan. Some of the famous wineries in this region are
The district of Elgin is located 40 miles East of Cape Town, in a valley cradled in the intimidating, ancient, Hottentots-Holland mountain range. It is one of the cooler wine-producing regions in South Africa, and the fruit in Elgin ripens later than the fruit harvested in other wine regions in Southern Africa. The fruit displays consistently excellent quality, and the wines produced display elegance, restraint and finesse. The varietals that this area is known for are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. Outstanding wineries in the area include Paul Cluver, Oak Valley, Iona and Richard Kershaw.
The Franschhoek wine district is set in a beautiful valley, surrounded by the imposing Franschhoek and Groot Drakenstein mountain ranges. Franschhoek was first settled by protestant French Hugenots, who were fleeing persecution in France, in 1688. Many of these French refugees had knowledge of winemaking and grape farming. Franschhoek is named after these early settlers. The name Franschhoek means ‘French Corner’ in Dutch. This area retains a ‘French’ atmosphere. Many of the farm names retain their original French names, and the area is considered a culinary destination. Grape varieties that do particularly well in this beautiful, romantic valley, include Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. The area is also known for its superb Method Cap Classique, sparkling wine made in the same manner and style as Champagne. Some of the top producers include Boekenhoutskloof, Chamonix, Stony Brook, Moreson and La Motte.
The Robertson district has particularly lime-rich soils, which make it particularly suited to the cultivation of grape vines. This area is associated with quality Chardonnay production, and Method Cap Classique (Champagne-style) sparkling wines.
Stellenbosch is one of South Africa’s oldest wine regions, with a wine making tradition that goes back to the 17th Century. This mountainous area is home to some of the country’s most famous and iconic wineries, and produces quality wines from most of the noble varietals. It is known for its red wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, blended red wines, and Pinotage. Some of the country’s finest Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay also come from this area. Some of the many stellar producers include Kanonkop, De Toren, De Morgenzon, Thelema, Hartenberg and Tokara.
This is a very exciting, dynamic area, where winemakers are eschewing established traditions and fashions, and daring to try something different. A group of visionary winemakers formed an association, and started a movement known as the Swartland Revolution. Members ferment their wines naturally, without chemical additions, they do not permit chemical fining of their wines, and many of the vines in this area are particularly old, low-yielding bushvines. The area is renowned for its Chenin b=Blanc, Shiraz, Grenache and Cinsaut. There is a strong sense of terroir in the Swartland, and a sense of ‘pushing boundaries’. Outstanding wineries in the Swartland include Sadie Family, Mullineaux, Spice Route and A. A. Badenhorst Family Wines.
This wine region, which includes Hemel-en-Aarde (‘heaven and earth’), is a cool coastal region, with a long ripening season. The soils in this area have a particularly high clay content, which has drawn comparisons to the Cote d’Or. Walker Bay has established a reputation for world-class, elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which have been described as ‘Burgundian’ in style. Well-known producers include Bouchard Finlayson, Crystallum, Creation, Ataraxia and Newton Johnson.