The South African wine industry has a rich heritage of stories that have contributed to it being where it is today. Behind each chapter of our local wine story is a producer at the lead, someone who made a bold move, discovered something new. It is these bold moves that helped transform South Africa from a young, struggling wine producing country, to the established, dynamic industry we know today. While it would be possible to tell the story of South African wines in many, many more chapters, we have chosen to explore 4 today. Read more below:
Introduction: The Constantia Wine Farm
Simon van der Stel, first Governor of the Cape, chose a suitable plot of land against Table Mountain, for its scenic views and nutritious soil. He named it Constantia. The Cape’s first wine estate is born. Here they produced fine wines which caught the attention of aristocrats internationally. One of these wines, Vin de Constance, is said to have been especially enjoyed by Napoleon Bonaparte, the legendary first emperor of France. The Vin de Constance is still produced by Klein Constantia wine farm today.
What happened of the Constantia Wine Farm? You can still find it today, but it now consists of four separate wine farms, Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, Buitenverwachting and Uitsig Wine Estate.
Chapter 1: Science & Terroir
In 1791, Dutchman Philippus Wolvaart bought a farm between the Berg and Palmiet river, which we know today as Nederburg Wine Estate. Nederburg has a long legacy of celebrated winemakers, of which the most prominent is probably John Graue. Graue revolutionised the wine industry with his clonal experiments, as well as his introduction of cold fermentation techniques.
Graue understood long before anyone else that great wine is made in the vineyard.
Chapter 2: KWV is the pillar that supports the winemaking community
This historical brand was established in 1918, with the aim of stabilising, supporting and structuring the young, struggling South African wine industry. Since then, KWV has been exporting award-winning wines and brandies from its home in Paarl to all over the world. The Roodeberg Red, one of their most celebrated brands, was born in 1949.
This one’s tricky. In 1959, Lanzerac Wine Estate commercially sold the world’s first Pinotage. This “new” wine received recognition in its first vintage, being designated the champion wine at the Cape Wine Show. While Lanzerac is mostly credited for “creating” Pinotage, it later became known that the champion Pinotage was produced by Bellevue, but sold under the Lanzerac label. The Pinotage grape is a combination of the Pinot Noir and Hermitage (we know it as Cinsault) grapes. The success of the new variety at the Cape Wine Show, and the knowledge of how robust and early-ripening the grape was, inspired more and more producers to plant Pinotage.
Chapter 4: Champagne, MCC and..South African Crayfish?
Back in the day, the word Champagne belonged to anyone who wanted to use it. Around the 1960’s talk started around the name being reserved for bottle-fermented sparkling wines from the Champagne region in France only. South Africa made a deal with France. They would keep making bottle-fermented sparkling wines in a similar style to those from the Champagne region, but they would rename it to Methode Cap Classique.
In a rather odd exchange, the two countries agreed that all South African crayfish sold in France had to be called by the name, South African Crayfish. The deal was made, and Simonsig went on to pioneer the first Methode Cap Classique in 1971. South African MCC has proved itself ever since, by holding its own in judging panels against Champagne, and often surpassing it with results.