It was at the end of the 17th century, between 1688 and 1691, that more than 200 Huguenots fleeing France and its religious persecutions settled on a territory that was then almost uninhabited, the Bonne Espérance Cap colony, an essential stage on the trade route to India. Mostly from the Charente and Luberon regions, the French settlers brought with them a few young wine plants. Surrounded by Dutch and English settlers, they demonstrated their winegrowing spirit and imposed their know-how.
More than three centuries later, with more than 100,000 hectares planted and about 9 million hectoliters produced on average each year by 3,650 wineries, South Africa is undoubtedly a great wine-producing country (the oldest vineyard in the New World!) and some of its wine circuits are among the most beautiful wine routes in the world.
THE SOUTH AFRICAN VINEYARD
Located at the southern tip of the African continent, the vineyards of South Africa extend over an area of about 800 kilometers in length in the Cape region.
The vineyards stretch from the mountains and slopes of the coastal regions to open plains of the Klein Karoo. Most of the vineyards are planted in the Western Cape province, near the coast.
The vineyards are predominantly influenced by one of two oceans, the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Indian Ocean to the east, which meet at South Africa’s southern tip.
The vineyard regions of Western Cape are divided into 30 districts and 98 smaller ones.
1. THE MAIN GRAPE VARIETIES
The Southern Cape region has a wide variety of conditions suitable for cultivating many different grape varieties. The South African wine industry was once dominated by white grape varieties, but new plantings of red grape varieties have changed that. In the last six years, winemakers have started planting more white varieties again, reversing the trend of the last ten years.
The main red varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Ruby, Cinsault, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc.
The main white grape varieties are Chenin blanc, Colombard, Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat d’Alexandrie and Semillon.
2. THE SPECIFICITIES OF THE WINE MAKING
This point is very specific to each producer. However, there is a clear movement in favor of spontaneous fermentation and maturation in larger oak containers for the production of high-end wines.
3. PRODUCTION BY VOLUME
South Africa’s wine production is estimated at 10.6 million hectoliters in 2022. The Stellenbosch region has the largest number of vineyards, but the Breedekloof region currently produces the most wine, followed by Robertson.
4. THE PERCENTAGE OF EXPORTS
In 2022, South Africa exported 386.5 million liters of wine, just over one-third of the total volume produced. The volume exported is down by 5.2% compared to 2021.
5. BARREL AGING
The average duration of barrel aging is very specific to each producer. It depends on the grape variety, but especially on the final objective that the winemaker wants to obtain in terms of wood/wine exchange. In general, producers age their wines in barrels for 11 to 18 months, with some Bordeaux reds reaching two years. There is a growing trend in the market for high-end wines to be aged in French oak barrels for 11 to 12 months to preserve the purity of the vineyard’s expression.
Some specific words about Tonnellerie Saury and its barrels in South Africa
Tonnellerie Saury has been distributing barrels for many wineries in South Africa for over 30 years.
The barrels used are mainly 300L barrels with extra-fine grains for long maturation, and 500L for white wines and Syrah.
A significant proportion of Ecrin barrels are used. The objective is to respect the fruit, the balance between the wine and the wood, and the tannins bringing freshness.
INGE SMIT: Saury Cooperage agent in South Africa since 2021
Inge graduated from the University of Stellenbosch with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture (Viticulture and Enology) in 2005. Since then, Inge has been working in the wine industry and has gained experience in winemaking at Larkmead (USA), Domaine du Monteillet (France), and in South Africa at Paul Cluver, Vergelegen and Hartenberg.