I hope you’re finding the exploration of South Africa as fascinating as I am. Never before have I found the need to utilize detailed mapping as I have during this course. If you haven’t read through the South Africa Overview yet, definitely do so before diving in here, as there are a lot of key terms defined that will be integral to your understanding of the specific regions. My last post toured the Coastal Region. Today, we’re diving into the Breede River Valley Region and the associated districts and wards within. We’ll also make a brief pitstop into the Olifant River Region.
We begin our tour of South Africa in the Coastal Region—the birthplace of the South African wine industry. On April 6, 1652, Dutch-born Jan van Riebeeck, South Africa‘s first European settler wrote, “Today, praise be to God, wine was pressed for the first time from Cape Grapes.” The region continued to be a focal point for European wine drinkers, enthralled as they were with the Muscat-based sweet wines being produced, often preferring the luscious wine—simply called “Constantia”—to Tokaji, Madeira, or even Yquem.
Indeed the drink became the stuff of literature: Charles Dickens tells of “…the support embodied in a glass of Constantia and a home-made biscuit” in Edwin Drood; Jane Austen speaks of Constantia’s “… healing powers on a disappointed heart.”
Though the grapes grown and wine produced are much different than those described by our poets, the Coastal Region is arguably still one of the most popular regions South Africa has to offer. It contains the tourist town, Cape Town—a now shared name with wine district Cape Town District (once Cape Peninsula District)—as well as other well-known districts and wards such as Swartland, Tulbagh, Wellington, and of course Constantia.
I’m not going to lie, one of the reasons that I jumped into the Loire Valley (Pays Nantais, Anjou-Saumur, Touraine, Central Vineyards) was because I’ve experienced a recent fascination with Chenin Blanc. I’ve come across a few great expressions from here at home in California. I dare say it is Clarksburg’s heritage grape. (Read Yolo County: Little grape-growing region that could page 1 and page 2). But that love for local got me thinking—where are the actual benchmark regions for Chenin Blanc? Well, the Loire Valley obviously. But I also always hear about it in reference to South Africa. So that is where my studies are taking me next.
Now, just so you know the game plan for these posts (in case you’re an avid follower and are reading these “live” or if you’re a “read it later” kind of human and need to know how to navigate these articles), this first piece is merely an introduction to the region, including some key terms and pieces of information I think will be integral to following along with subsequent articles.
I am then going to break up the South Africa regional deep-dive into a three-part series. As “small” as the wine region(s) of the country may seem, I’ve been finding a lot of notable details that I’m going to want to explore. Following that three-part regional series, I will then have an article dedicated to my South African wine tasting experience(s).
Last but not least, I will cover the history and current status of the South African wine industry and market. I was going to attempt to squeeze that bit into the introductory material, but the country has a very, to me, interesting wine producing history—and how it’s navigated the twist and turns given its political, social, and environmental impacts, I couldn’t help but link up a bunch of stuff I’m learning in my D2 studies. So, I’m going to take a serious deep dive into that and, thus, it deserves its own post.
Alright, let’s get a bit of an overview. Welcome to South Africa…
Last but not least, we end our tour of the Loire Valley in the Central Vineyards—where the region’s overall cool, continental climate is the main contributing factor to the racey acidity in its claim-to-fame grape. If you’ve not yet taken a stop in Pays Nantais, Anjou-Saumur, or Touraine, be sure to read about those as well to learn what makes this region, the home of the famed Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, so special.
We shall continue our tour of Middle Earth, I mean Middle Loire, moving further east into Touraine. If you haven’t read about Middle Loire’s Anjou-Saumur region(s), make sure to take a pitstop there first.
Again, I find a compelling quote to introduce this region from the Oxford Companion to Wine: “This is ‘the garden of France,’ and Loire chateau country par excellence.” Let’s find out what makes this particular piece of wine country so excellent…