[Information based on WSET Level 3 material]
When we talk about South Africa’s wine regions, we’re mostly talking about the Western Cape. It is here that the overall hot-climate country receives cooling influences from both the Southern Ocean—namely from the cold Benguela Current that comes up from the Antarctic—as well as the Cape Doctors, south-easterly summer winds that can reduce the temperatures of the more inland areas as they funnel through the region’s mountains and hillsides. Those mountains and hillsides also mean that grape growers can plant their vines at different aspects, altitudes, and in varying soil types. As a tactic, many growers will plant their vines on the south-facing portion of the slopes, away from the hemisphere and limiting the intensity of the daily sunlight and/or utilizing some of those mountains and hills as shade.
We should also touch on South African Wine Laws, as they use a bit of a different language than I’m sure many of us are used to. The South African GI system is the Wine of Origin Scheme, or W.O.
The term geographical unit is the phrase used to indicate that grapes from several regions or districts were used in the production of the wine. Again, the most important of these geographical units is the Western Cape. About 90% of all the wine produced in South Africa comes from the Western Cape. The other 10% come from Orange River, located in the Northern Cape—this is an extremely hot region that utilizes irrigation to produce high volume, inexpensive white wines that, for the most part, do not leave the country.
Next level in, after geographical unit, is regions—large areas within the unit that have common geological features. The regions of the Western Cape to know: Coastal Region, Breede River Valley, and South Cape Coast. Regions are then further split into districts. The last, smallest unit is wards.
Wines that are labeled as Estate Wines come from a single estate from which all the grapes are grown and produced (including bottling).
Last note about labeling: South Africa has a voluntary sustainable agricultural scheme called Integrated Production of Wine, or IPW. Certified producers can display that credential as part of their W.O. label.
Alright, let’s take a dive into some of those regions within the Western Cape.