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.
Here we go…
Note: For a simplified look at South African wine information, please see Wine Region Overview: South Africa. (More appropriate for those studying for their Level 3 exams.)
BREEDE RIVER VALLEY REGION
Though there is some slight influence from the Atlantic within this more inland region, the climate is generally dry and warm, thus irrigation form the Breede River itself is absolutely necessary to sustain viticulture.
According to The World Atlas of Wine, more wine is made in the Breede River Valley region than any other Cape region—more than a quarter of the country’s output. Admittedly, much ends up as brandy, many grapes are also destined for bulk wine production. However, my text notes that alongside those high-volume production wines are a few high quality wines coming from individual estates.
- BREEDEKLOOF DISTRICT
Located in the upper portion of the Breede River Region, Breedekloof is a bit of an outlier in terms of climate in that it receives enough annual rainfall to promote grape growing without irrigation—a noted difference between neighboring Worcester and Robertson Districts (below). Luckily there are south-east winds that blow through, mitigating fungal disease and providing a cooling influence during the heat of the summer.
A geographical note my book does not mention is that the district is separated from the Paarl district to the west by a mountain range and there’s also a mountain range that splits the district into two separate wards (not covered here). So, while the overall climate is warm and continental, the diverse topography from these ranges allows for diverse microclimates, diurnal ranges, as well as shadowing, all of which can help moderate temperature.
WEIRD WEATHER: I couldn’t find reference to this elsewhere, but supposedly the region does occasionally experience winter and spring snow which can, in effect delay budburst. An alternate risk is when the temperatures get even colder there can be instances of spring frost, which damages buds. Despite that, my text re-iterates that the general climate is a warm, continental one that allows for longer hang-time and later harvest.
Given the Google map above, it’s no surprise to learn that Breedekloof‘s soils are quite diverse, ranging from sandy loam around the Breede River to rockier, more stony soils in the mountain foothills. Thus, a variety of grapes can be grown: Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Chardonnay as well as Pinotage, Shiraz, and Cab Sauvignon.
- WORCESTER DISTRICT
In contrast to Breedekloof District (above), Worcester experiences very low rainfall due to the rainshadow of the surrounding mountains. Thus, successful grape growing is dependent on regular irrigation.
The soils in Worcester are notably fertile. Traditionally, grape growing was geared toward high volume production to suit the needs of the brandy industry. Today Worcester plantings still accounts for about 12% of the national wine crop, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine and, while much is still utilized for distillation, the traditional distillation grapes of Colombard and Chenin Blanc are today joined by Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Shiraz.
- ROBERTSON DISTRICT
With rainfall reaching just 400 mm annually, Robertson is another district that relies on its proximity to the Breede River for irrigation. This warm, continental climate is cooled by south-east winds blowing in from the Indian Ocean, which also brings in moisture.
The terrain here is quite flat, the soils fertile, meaning that the district is most suitable for producing high yields. Like Worcester, Robertson is another place that was a traditional source for the brandy industry. But, FUN FACT: my book notes that there are also areas of Robertson that are home to limestone soils—something not usually found in South Africa. It’s in these areas that we can find successful plantings of Chardonnay used for both still and sparkling wine production. Colombard, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc remain the most widely planted grapes. The Oxford notes that there are “an increasingly creditable array of reds” as well which include Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.
This is the most northern region of the Western Cape (above this we enter the aptly named Northern Cape). It’s noted for its extremely dry, warm climate and the fact that it is traditionally used as a source for high yields of grapes destined for distillation means that irrigation from the Olifants River is a necessity.
However, as the Atlas notes, there are “pockets of vines with serious potential.” These so-called pockets include the Citrusdal Mountain and Lutzville Valley Districts as well as the Bamboes Bay and Piekenierskloof Wards. Here, dry-farmed old vines are planted at altitude, receiving cooling influences from the Atlantic as well—these conditions result in very high quality fruit that can produce good to outstanding wines and command premium and super premium prices.
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