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The charm of the Cape Winelands

If you’re a fan of South African wines, you’re going to be in heaven in the Cape Winelands, outside Cape Town. And if you’re not, you’re still going to love the winding wine routes that weave their way across the stunning landscape which is dotted with colonial-style wine estates, green vineyards, colorful flowers, set against a rugged backdrop of rocky mountains and gently sloping hills. The effect is so postcard-pretty that it looks almost like a “Photoshop job”.  That’s why the Cape Winelands were added to the “cultural” category of the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2004 – the first step towards getting them included on the official World Heritage List.

The picture-postcard-perfect Cape Winelands

Unofficially, Stellenbosch is often thought of as the “capital” of the magnificent Cape Winelands as it is the best known (and marketed) out of the six areas that make up the Winelands. However, the other five regions – Constantia, Franschhoek, Paarl, Robertson and Wellington – also have their fair share of great wines. In fact, Constantia has some of the oldest wine estates in the Cape Winelands.

South Africa is world renowned for its excellent wines. But this wasn’t always the case. The first attempts to produce wine in the Capelands in the 17th-century were more or less a disaster; it took many years of trial and error before the locals got it right and earned the respect of the more established European wine industry.

Who wouldn't want to live here!

Back in the 1670s, Simon van der Stel, governor of the Cape, set his sights on developing the region and in 1679 he set the foundations of Stellenbosch. His own wine estate at Constantia, one of the first, also became well respected in Europe.

And, in another stroke of luck, the Protestant Huguenots were kicked out of France in the late 17th-century. Fortunately for South Africa’s wine industry, some of them settled in the Cape area – mainly around Franschhoek, Paarl and Drakenstein – bringing their viniculture know-how with them which helped greatly to develop today’s South African wines, and on occasion, surpass their native French ones.

In 2008 South Africa had a “record crop” according to the Rabobank Wine Quarterly report and 2011 is expected to be another “healthy” crop, estimated to reach 1.35 million tonnes. However, while domestic demand for local wines rose in 2010 (in part due to the side-effects of the World Cup), exports dropped by around 4% due to a stronger-than-usual Rand and the ongoing impact of the economic crisis in its export markets.

Regardless of competition from New World countries like Chile, New Zealand and California, and from more traditional wine producing nations like Italy, Spain and France, South Africa is still right up in the top ten global rankings. One of the keys to the success of the industry, a wine industry graduate from Stellenbosch University tells us at a wine tasting, is that “we have always been open to new influences and technology and have a much more modern viniculture than that of the more traditional European vineyards.  We always try new things to improve the quality of the wine and to make our production more effective. Sometimes, in France, they still try to do things the way they did them hundreds of years ago, but they need to update because they are losing their competitive edge.”

Chinese visitors, to the Cape Winelands, she told us, are also increasing. “They want to learn from us so they can go back home and apply it to their own wine industry,” she says. Wine from China? Yep, China also has aspirations here and is moving up the list of global wine producing nations. It was recently ranked the seventh largest producer of wine in the world, according to a study by the International Wine and Spirit Record.

Just one of the many well-known South African wine brands that you'll find on your supermarket shelf.

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  1. February 10, 2011 at 1:51 am

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