South Africa is a country I can’t get my head around. Every other South African you talk to over here in London has something different to say about their home country, sometimes brimming with pride and sometimes not so complimentary. I’ve never been, and have no experience with which to comment. All I’d say is that the amazing pictures I’ve seen from harvests on twitter, and some of the wine I’ve drunk, and some of the food I’ve tasted just makes me want to go and check it out for myself. It’s definitely on the list!
The beauty of South Africa, in terms of its ecosystem, gives winemakers some very unique challenges. Well, I say unique, I’m not sure they’re unique, but they’re definitely more wide spread. Sustainable agriculture across the country’s farms is absolutely mandatory given all the unique plants and animals and ecosystem they have over there. If you buy South African wine, you know that the chances are high that it’s been very carefully produced.
It seems really weird to me to still be talking about racial inequality in a modern thinking country in this day and age. I suppose I’m just being really naive about exactly how recently apartheid ended, only 20 years ago in 1994. South Africans have worked really hard to make it all work and the wine industry is one that has been fully part of this. The Black Economic Empowerment initiative has been embraced and got many people involved with the skills and the employment that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. As the years tick by, the benefits in terms of a skilled and motivated human element to wine production are clear for all to see.
Another point about the industry since 1994, is that what was effectively a state run co-op monopoly ended. So you had a lot of different co-op produced wines able to try new things and go in their own direction. You also had a lot of independent winemakers go out there on the their own and chase the premium market. 20 years on it’s fairly evident they’ve nailed it.
The vineyards are fairly hot, but cooled by closeness to oceans that surround the south of the country. A couple of very strong currents, one from the Atlantic, and the other from the south east help to take this cooler air further inland. Couple this with big mountain ranges and vast plains, and you’ve got a fantastically diverse set of areas to stick some vines where the grapes will thrive. Whites including Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay have been widely planted, and reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah have found a home too.
Our new wine this week, the red grape Pinotage, needs a bit more explanation!
Other posts in NWTW Week 8: