The wine growing regions in South Africa cover a vast expanse of the Western Cape. The premium estate wine is grown mostly within a 90 minute drive of the city of Cape Town.
Part of the northern suburbs of Cape Town, Durbanville is a small wine-growing area. Its rainfall is a mere 14 inches. Located within 9 miles of the Atlantic, it gets the benefit of the cool breezes and is open to the strong, southeasterly winds from False Bay. Although rainfall is minimal, very little irrigation is used because of the frequent fog and water-retaining properties of the Hutton and Clovelly soils.
In the late 17th century, religious fanaticism was rife in Europe. King Louis XIV repealed the Edict of Nantes in 1685, marking an end to 87 years of religious tolerance. The French Protestants were forced to convert to Catholicism, or to flee. Many chose to leave. Holland, tolerant even in those days, readily accepted these persecuted refugees. The Dutch East India Company offered a large number of them opportunities of land and a new life in the Cape. Most of the new settlers arrived between 1688 and 1700.
The Huguenots presented an opportunity to expand the Cape territories as well as to improve the pool of winemaking skills. Unlike the Dutch settlers, the Huguenots had experience in making wine. If they did not directly have wine farms in France, most had close relatives who were wine farmers. The immigrants were granted land on the other side of the Stellenbosch mountains in the Drakenstein valley. The area once known as Elephants Corner became known as Le Quartier Francais (the French quarter), which was later modified to Franschhoek (French corner). In a short time, they had turned the fertile soils of the Franschhoek Valley into blankets of fruit orchards and green vineyards.
The Huguenot Monument stands gracefully at the end of town commemorating the freedom of religious belief.
The drive to Franschhoek, either from Stellenbosch or from Paarl, is majestic. The power of the Simonsberg and the Drakenstein mountains pulsates. Throughout the winter, waterfalls strike their way down the steely granite of the Drakenstein. The winding road along the alluvial plain enters the protective cowling of the mountains surrounding Franschhoek. The valley narrows emphasizing the drama of the sudden mountains. The slope of their formation is a subtle clue to the violent turbulence hundreds of millions of years ago. Their rocky peaks of granite give way slowly to the velvet of indigenous bush. Outcrops are covered with commercial plantations of forest pines. the buzzards and eagles soar overhead, protecting the grapes from flighted and footed scavengers.
There is a sophistication about Franschhoek. A quiet village centered along a mile or so of the main road, it bustles with restaurants, cafes, art galleries, curios and boutique shops. Some of the finest inns and B&Bs can be enjoyed in Franschhoek. The town attracts the glitterati and cognoscenti. Besides its sheer beauty and quaintness, Franschhoek exudes elegance and an understated gentility - all cloaked in the warmth and genuineness of the farming community it is.
Franschhoek technically falls under the Paarl region. Its distinctive character, however, sets it apart and is usually referred to separately. The Franschhoek Valley is narrow, approximately one mile in breadth and five miles long. The Valley is surrounded by mountains on the North, East and South and close mountain ranges in the West. The average height of the mountains exceeds 3,000 feet above sea level.
The soil and climatic conditions vary considerably from one farm to another. There are alluvial plains and steep mountain slopes. The dramatic folds of the mountains lend further diversity for effects of the sun and temperature. These factors result in a wide range of wines being produced in Franschhoek.
Soil type of most vineyards: Primarily Hutton and Clovelly on the mountain slopes
Fernwood, Estcourt and Longlands in the alluvial valley
Height above sea level: 700 - 1500 feet
Distance from the sea: 30 miles
Prevailing south-east winds: from Walker Bay
Total rainfall per year: 34 inches
The ‘mountains of Africa’ surrounding Stellenbosch are dramatic and seemingly impenetrable. Their blueish, purple faces change character throughout the day as the sunlight transforms their chiseled granite peaks. The crisp, clear light of the morning slips over their shoulders onto the valleys. The soft, afternoon haze makes them seem unreal, illusory - almost part of a movie set. The evening glow dances on them with a subdued magenta as the sun sets behind Table Mountain. Ranges like Helderberg and Jonkershoek and Simonsberg and Drakenstein and Helshoogte Pass, each have their unique character - sometimes sharp and jagged, other times buckled and gnarled, and yet other times bold and strong. All are imposing, powerful forces from nature reminding us of our temporal existence and humbling our mortal efforts. At the same time, they are eternally dazzling, lifting our spirits with their shear majesty and beauty.
It was to this boundary of Africa that Simon van der Stel ventured in search of fertile land. He found a dream. A dream where he imagined a town surrounded by vineyards and agricultural activities. This dream he called Stellenbosch. It was an important discovery in the establishment of the Cape, for until this time, the Dutch East India Company had to import food to sustain its base at the foot of Africa. As Eastern goods became more and more fashionable during the 17th century, so the trade between East and West expanded. This may have secured the importance of the fledgling Cape Town but it also increased its population and the demand for fresh provisions. The settlement at the foot of the Hottentots-Holland Mountains changed that and the Cape became self-sufficient.
The first rural village of Stellenbosch was established in 1680, when eight families settled the new land on the banks of the Eerste River. By 1685, most of the well-known farms had been granted. It did not take long before the complex web of society found most of the Stellenbosch farms linked together in some way through marriage, children, insolvency or intrigue. The stories are fascinating and colorful. Most of the wineries have chronicled the history of their land. Often, they have remarkable tales to share or books to offer.
Stellenbosch retains its village atmosphere with a rural sophistication. It is cosmopolitan in many ways with outdoor concerts, art exhibitions, drama productions and people who appreciate and enjoy the subtle charms of life. It is a vibrant university town. Loads of art galleries, antique stores, coffee shops and interesting restaurants line its historic and beautiful streets. Church Street and Dorp Street are riddled with beautifully restored buildings from the various architectural eras. Andringa Street is a must for shops and galleries. Stellenbosch is also the heart of South Africa’s wine industry. From the undulating hills to the deep glens of the mountain ranges, the land is planted with vines.
In the north of the region, there are the Bottelary and Muldersvlei areas. Both areas are known for producing excellent red wines. There are some mountainside aspects where chardonnay does well.
In the central areas, the Pappegaai hills undulate on the western outskirts of Stellenbosch village. Mainly a red wine producing area with a few examples of exciting whites.
In the south-west, the Faure district stretches to False Bay in the Atlantic Ocean. A relatively flat section, there are occasional hills. Red wine production is the primary growth.
In the south and south-east, there are several areas, including the Helderberg and Jonkershoek. The vineyards tend to be planted on the mountains which form the eastern barrier of the Cape peninsula. With varying meso-climates, farmers produce quality white and red wines.
In the east, there is Helshoogte Pass on the way to Franschhoek. As the name implies, the terrain is mountainous on all sides. The soil type tend to a deep red Hutton. Excellent examples of both red and white noble varietals are produced.
The ‘mountains of Africa’ from the backdrop to Stellenbosch. Dramatic, grey-blue granite peaks shoot above the verdant fields. These mountains are mainly Hutton and Clovelly soils over ground quartzite and soft shale. Farms in the lower lying reaches have sandy, Fernwood soils. Soils vary radically and can change within a yard. As a result, the soils are tested extensively prior to planting and much of the district is used for farming other produce or for grazing. This applies throughout the wine-growing regions in South Africa.
Soil type of most vineyard areas: Primarily Hutton and Clovelly with secondary showing of Fernwood as well as Estcourt and Longlands alluvial sands. Usually require the addition of lime.
Height above sea level: 50 - 1700 feet
Distance from sea: 1 - 15 miles
Prevailing south east winds: from False Bay
Total rainfall per year: 29 inches
Pearl. That is the name given to the massive bald dome of granite. It glimmers like a pearl, reflecting fragments of vivid hues. These formations are interesting not just for their unusual shape but also for the geological significance. They are the second largest granite outcrops in the world, measuring 654 meters above sea level. They forced their mammoth granite heads into the landscape some 500 - 600 million years ago, approximately 100 million years before the Table Mountain structure protruded into the scene. There is an exhilarating walk up one of the boulders for breathtaking views.
Under instruction from Jan van Riebeeck, an exploration party made their way north to survey the land around Cape Town and to record their findings. From his post at the Castle, Jan van Riebeeck named the imposing horizon, ‘the mountains of Africa.’ They were seemingly impenetrable. In the party’s search for a pass, they found a fertile valley teaming with wildlife. There was a wide river flowing north, which they name the Berg River, meaning ‘mountain river.’ The valley seemed ideal for expansion opportunities. It was during the tenure of Simon van der Stel, however, that Paarl was established. The Dutch colonists settled in 1687, followed by the French Huguenots in 1688. Their cultures and languages merged as the society in the Cape formed. The Afrikaans language was officially launched in Paarl with the publication of Die Patriot in 1875. It is for this reason that the Language Monument was built on the slopes of Paarl Mountain.
Paarl became a refueling stop for travelers making their way inland. It was after the emancipation of slaves in 1834 that the traffic increased rapidly. The freeing of the slaves caused a huge outcry by the farmers throughout the Cape and lead to hundreds of families setting out on the Great Trek. This landed them in Kimberley and the Witwatersrand. The ensuing diamond and gold rushes ensured a regular flow of travelers through Paarl. It was thus that Paarl became a bustling service and manufacturing center as well as an agricultural hub. Today, Paarl is home to several major players in agriculture as well as finance and manufacturing.
A significant development in the wine industry was the formation of the KWV, which is headquartered in Paarl. At the turn of the 20th century, the KWV was established to protect the wine farmers from the price pressures of negotiating individually in the market. The farmers formed the co-op to negotiate collectively and, essentially, to create a protective price cartel. KWV grew into a producer of note, with quaffers and award-winners. KWV’s powers were legislated, effectively positioning it as a non-governmental regulatory body. Over the years, the powers were widened substantially. While the functions of the KWV may have had a positive impact at times, it became inappropriate in the modern market. The wine industry began a substantial deregulation around 1990. The fruits of this newly found freedom are manifested in the multitude of new wine farms, innovative vineyard management and creative winemaking.
The Main Street in Paarl is dotted with historic Cape Dutch and Victorian buildings, where the candy-lace of the Victorian homes contrasts with the gables of the Cape Dutch homes. Many of these are still residences. It is a tribute to the country atmosphere that pervades this busy town. In fact, many who work in Paarl still go home for lunch.
Paarl is bordered by mountains on the South, East and Southeast. It opens onto flat plains on the West, which extend to the Atlantic Ocean, and on the North, which extend to the Swartland. The weather is usually warmer with less influence from the southeasterly winds.
There are three main soil types in Paarl. Along the Berg River, the soils are sandy from the Table Mountain sandstone origin. In the town of Paarl and the slopes of the Paarl Mountain, the soils are granitic. In the north-east, the soils are mostly of Malmesbury shale. The soils of Paarl and Stellenbosch usually require the addition of lime.
Soil type of most vineyard areas: Glenrosa, Fernwood and Mamre clay
Height above sea level: 500 - 800 feet
Distance from the sea: 30 miles
Prevailing south-east winds: from False Bay
Total rainfall per year: 30 inches
The splendor and scenic beauty of Tulbagh valley is hard to beat. One hour north-east of Cape Town, the little valley lies in a fertile basin almost completely surrounded by the majestic Winterhoek and Witzenberg mountains, often snow-capped in winter. The Klein Berg River snakes its way across the valley floor, providing ample water for irrigation. The town was named after Rijk Tulbagh, governor of the Cape from 1751 to 1771. The village history dates back to 1658 when Jan van Riebeeck sent an exploration party to survey the outlying areas of the new Cape settlement. The surveyor, Pieter Potter, discovered the Tulbagh Valley. While magnificent in beauty, Potter advised van Riebeeck that the area was dry and infertile. Some 40 years later, Willem Adriaan van der Stel claimed the “discovery” of this difficult and remote valley. By 1720, there were eight freehold farms: four Dutch and four Huguenot. It wasn’t until 1820 that Tulbagh officially became a village.
The beautiful Church Street is replete with every style of Cape Dutch gabled house imaginable, more than any other street, and often towns, in the country. There are 32 National Monuments for each of these grand homes, many of which are still private residences.
Tulbagh was the first inland wine growing area. The inland areas are characterized by mountainous regions that are not influenced by the cooling effects of the southerly winds and sea. The soils of Tulbagh vary considerably with deep sand and loose stone over clay subsoils along the riverbanks. Soils on the lower mountain slopes are low pH Hutton, which require the addition of large amounts of lime during preparation. The upper slopes consist of mountainous clay subsoils ranging from 3ft to 8ft in depth. Substantial layers of large rock and stone cover the mountainsides, often inhibiting planting.
Several micro-climates are found in Tulbagh owing to the shape of the valley, the steepness of the mountain slopes and their various facings. Temperatures vary greatly in the valley. For example, the summer temperatures in the north of the valley average 65oF and those in the south reach 75oF. The north mountains are snowcapped for about two months of the year, with frost a regular winter feature. The north also records more rainfall, with an average of 30 inches per year compared with 18 inches in the south of the valley. Irrigation from the Klein Berg River is often used during the long, hot, dry summers.
Located one hour south-east of Cape Town on the “other side” of the Stellenbosch mountains, Walker Bay extends from the ocean to the mountain slopes. It is cooler than the other growing areas and known for Pinot Noir, aromatic Pinotage, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and, of course, Chenin Blancs from Beaumont. The area Bot River, at the base of the mountain, was an outpost in the mid-1700s for the Dutch East India Company. Further along the coast is the sea-side village of Hermanus, famous for whale watching.
South of Franschhoek and east of Stellenbosch, the Overberg district is strongly influenced by coastal weather patterns. Cool southerly winds from the Antarctic temper the summer days and rain falls heavily in the winter, with an average 28 inches. Temperatures are typically cooler throughout the year than any other region, except perhaps Constantia. Not only are the temperatures cooler but the hours of sun are also less. During the drier summer months, the sky is regularly shrouded in clouds cumulating around the mountains due to the strong southeast winds. It is not surprising that the grapes in the Overberg are amongst the last to ripen. The soil content is mostly sandy shale. This is an exciting area for cool climate grapes such as Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.
Most of the deciduous fruit grown in South Africa is from the Overberg, particularly apples, pears and peaches. Wheat fields crest the hills in the lower lying valleys. Some of the main towns in the Overberg are Hermanus, Bot River and Villiersdorp
REGIONAL CHARACTERISTICS - OTHER WARDS, DISTRICTS AND REGIONS
Constantia lies on the easterly slopes of the Constantia Mountains, an extension of Table Mountain. The vineyards overlook False Bay to the south-east. The Atlantic Ocean extends to the west side of the Constantia Mountains, which form the peninsula to Cape Point. The Constantia vineyards benefit from moderating and cooling properties of being “surrounded” by the Ocean.
Temperatures are moderate and tend to be a few degrees cooler than surrounding areas. The southeaster wind does not blow at gale force, however, the winter northwest wind does. Thus, the grapes are not subject ot violent winds during their early growing season while the dormant vines are subject to bouts of fierce winds. The soils are mostly Hutton and Clovelly with a loamy sand in the few lower regions. Irrigation is not used in Constantia, which has an average rainfall of 40 inches.
The Constantia vineyards are surrounded by the southern suburbs of Cape Town.
The Klein Karoo is a narrow stretch of land bordered by the arid Karoo to the north and the Swartberg Mountains and the Indian Ocean to the south of the Langeberg and Outeniqua mountains. A long, east-west corridor, the Klein Karoo gets little rain, lots of sun and extreme temperature variations, with late frosts in the winter. The Klein Karoo is primarily known for its brandy and fortified wine production. This region is home to the ostrich farms from the turn of the 20th century. The fields of the Klein Karoo were planted with lucerne and other grains to feed the vast flocks of birds, prized for their feathers. When the market collapsed in 1913, farmers returned to growing vines.
Viticulture developed primarily for the purpose of making brandy. The vast area stretches from Citrusdal in the south to Lutzville in the north. Most of the vines are grown in the northern reaches under intensive irrigation as the average rainfall is a mere 12 inches.Tthe average summer temperature is 80oF. The winters are mild. The vineyards are terraced to aid irrigation. Trellising is an important feature to ensure sufficient canopy and cooler temperatures for the grapes to ripen.
Robertson was settled as farmers moved east from Worcester in the early 1800s. Wheat production and grazing activities dominate the area, which is hot and dry with little rainfall. An inland area, most of the Robertson District is not influenced by the cooling effect of the southerly winds and the sea. Vineyards could not have been considered before a dam was built at the turn of the 20th century, from which farmers could irrigate the arid land. The second factor leading to the introduction of vines in Robertson was the discovery of the cold fermentation process. With summer temperatures that regularly exceed 90oF, it would have been impossible to control the fermentation process with any degree of success under natural conditions.
The mountainous influence is strong with various mountain ranges forming in different directions. This leads to variation in elevation, wind, dew, sun and rain. Parts of the Robertson district are influenced by the coastal weather patterns passing to the south.
Part of the Paarl district, Wellington lies north of the town of Paarl. Similar in regional characteristics, Wellington is slightly warmer with lower rainfall. The estate wineries in Wellington, however, are mostly located on the higher slopes of the Drakenstein Mountains, where it is cooler and the rainfall slightly higher than the vast lower reaches of Wellington.
Worcester lies to the east of Paarl on the other side of the massive Du Toit’s Kloof and Klein Drakenstein mountain ranges. Settlement expanded rapidly after the first commercial route to Cape Town over the mountains was built in 1852 - known as the Bain’s Kloof Pass. most of the production centered on raisins until the market dried up after World War II. The vineyards were replanted with wine grapes and several co-operatives were formed. Worcester is the largest producing area in South Africa, yielding approximately 25% of the total national crop.
Worcester is an inland area and is, thus, not influenced by the cool southerly winds or the sea. The district is bound by mountain ranges with an alluvial plain opening to the east, toward Robertson. The soil variation and micro-climates are diverse. The main producing soils are alluvial soils consisting of sandy loam with loose stone and high water tables, requiring drainage to be installed prior to planting. Fertile alluvial soils are also found along the riverbanks. These lime rich soils combined with irrigation and searing summer temperatures contribute to producing large yields of generally high-sugar grapes. It takes a committed and talented farmer to slow the growth and make a quality table wine.
These other grape-growing areas are largely under massive irrigation schemes in hot, dry arid conditions. The wine grapes are mainly grown for brandies and fortified wines. These areas are known for their table grape production. South Africa is the largest producer of grape juice concentrate in the world, much of which is grown in the following areas.