Wines of the New South Africa

Wines of the New South Africa: Tradition and Revolution

Tim James
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt7zw0st
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  • Book Info
    Wines of the New South Africa
    Book Description:

    Sought after by European aristocrats and a favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte, the sweet wines of Constantia in the Cape Colony were considered to be among the world’s best during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During the first democratic elections in 1994, South Africa began to re-emerge onto the international wine scene. Tim James, an expert on South African wines, takes the reader on an information-packed tour of the region, showing us how and why the unique combination of terroir and climate, together with dramatic improvements in winemaking techniques, result in wines that are once again winning accolades. James describes important grape varieties and wine styles—from delicate sparkling, to rich fortified, and everything in between—including the varietal blends that produce some of the finest Cape wines. Anchoring his narrative in a rich historical context, James discusses all the major wine regions, from Cederberg to Walker Bay, complete with profiles of more than 150 of the country’s finest producers.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95483-0
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-4)

    What is South African wine? Rather, ask first: what are South African vineyards, and what do they mean?

    Inland from the Atlantic, some three hours’ drive from Cape Town, we eventually found the farm called ’t Voetpad—an old Dutch name meaning “the footpath.” The landscape is mountainous, beautiful but hard, with few signs of habitation. Wheat and rooibos tea are the main agricultural pursuits. But at the end of one of the large valleys, next to a homestead, an ancient barn, and a cluster of trees, was the neglected vineyard about which an ambitious winemaker, looking for old vines,...

  6. 1 WINE AND THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA
    (pp. 5-22)

    In 1994, in a hopeful time as a new democracy came to the land of apartheid, South African wine ventured out into the world—a world of which it was terribly ignorant, and which, in turn, had largely forgotten about it during years of boycott. Perhaps, though, an atavistic memory clung from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when wines from Constantia were welcomed among the world’s greatest. Now, a figure shrunken from long years of isolation, South African wine blinked in the light, a little tentative but with more confidence than was justified—as was to be demonstrated, when the...

  7. 2 A BRIEF HISTORY OF SOUTH AFRICAN WINE TO 1994
    (pp. 23-47)

    The origins of winegrowing in South Africa can be fixed with unusual accuracy. A crucial moment was recorded on 2 February 1659 in the logbook of Jan van Riebeeck, commander of the tiny settlement at the foot of Africa. It was nearly seven years since he and his expeditionary force of some ninety men had gone ashore at Table Bay, intent on establishing a revictualing station. The Cape of Good Hope had been known to Europeans since Bartholomew Diaz had rounded it in 1488, but circumstances in international trade suggested its usefulness to the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (Dutch East India...

  8. 3 GRAPE VARIETIES AND WINE STYLES
    (pp. 48-81)

    The history of grape varieties in the Cape is murky, from the time when van Riebeeck failed to specify in his diaries either the origin or the variety of his imports. Early Cape viticulture would have included Greengrape (Sémillon), White French (Palomino), Steen (Chenin Blanc), Muscat de Frontignan (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains), Muscat of Alexandria, and Pontac. A large number of other varieties, sometimes mentioned to bewildering effect by travelers, were brought in over the years, though only a few of them became in any way established.

    Early commentators do not always give us reason to have confidence in...

  9. 4 WINE OF ORIGIN: Legislation, Labels, and Terroir
    (pp. 82-89)

    In 1966 one of South Africa’s modern legendary wines was made (and repeated once, with equal success, in 1968), by or on behalf of George Spies, the manager at that time of the merchant Monis. Surprisingly little is known about it, but the wine seems to have been more or less experimental, and an important part of the experiment is suggested on the laconic label, which bears only the legend “GS Cabernet Sauvignon 1966” with, in tiny print at the bottom, “100%.” This was before the Wine of Origin legislation was introduced to systematize and control claims regarding matters such...

  10. 5 CONSTANTIA AND THE CAPE PENINSULA
    (pp. 90-105)

    “The cellar [at Buitenverwachting] is unused—and no wine has been made there since 1951; the fields are under cultivation (largely fruit) and the vineyards comprise table grapes…. The thatched roof supports enough vegetation for a garden.” So wrote Jose Burman inWine of Constantiain 1979. Burman could note a few wineries and wine farms still in existence—most notably Groot Constantia itself—but surburbanization threatened to triumph even where there was not indifference or neglect, as at Alphen, where “the pressures of the advancing city were so great that expropriations whittled it down to the stage of being...

  11. 6 STELLENBOSCH
    (pp. 106-181)

    After Constantia, Stellenbosch is the oldest of the Cape’s continuing winegrowing areas, and now perhaps its emotional and intellectual heartland. It is also in some ways the most important—particularly as the most internationally recognizable name in South African wine and as the source of a disproportionate number of its finest wines, though not the largest area in terms of production. Cape wine’s iconic image of a whitewashed, gabled manor house among vineyards and oak trees at the foot of magnificent mountains is the iconic image of Stellenbosch.

    In 1677 the Third Khoikhoi-Dutch War ended and the way was open...

  12. 7 PAARL AND WELLINGTON
    (pp. 182-206)

    “The history of the area started in 1657,” blandly announces the Web site of a Paarl winery, “when Abraham Gabemma, public treasurer of the new Dutch settlement at the Cape of Good Hope, was searching for additional meat resources.” In fact, history (if by that we mean human activity) had been under way for some time already in these large valleys, which were the grazing and hunting grounds of Khoikhoi long before the arrival of the Dutch. Gabemma reported finding kraals all along the river.

    Abraham Gabemma, taking the privilege of being the first historically recorded person here, not only...

  13. 8 FRANSCHHOEK
    (pp. 207-219)

    The long story of human settlement in what we now know as the Franschhoek Valley is movingly told in the museum at the Solms-Delta wine estate, from the first inhabitants whose traces remain in stone tools, through the slaves who worked and died there and the European settlers, and the years of apartheid, to the hopes and the sometimes ambiguous freedom of the present. The museum is a fine way to help wine lovers penetrate, if they wish, behind the blandness of the cursory accounts generally on offer, where the brute reality of slavery is replaced by sentimental evasions or...

  14. 9 DURBANVILLE TO DARLING
    (pp. 220-229)

    The busy town of Durbanville—virtually continuous with Cape Town, and no farther from the city center than is Constantia—began life with a much homelier name: Pampoenkraal (“pumpkin kraal”). It was a resting and meeting place for travelers, wagoners, and local farmers. The little village was obsequiously renamed D’Urban, for a colonial governor, in 1838, but the growing fame of the Natal port of Durban prompted a retreat to Durbanville fifty years later. Now, with much farming land already lost to urbanization, the inevitable struggle continues to defend the interests of agriculture against housing, golf courses, and gentlemen’s vineyard...

  15. 10 THE SWARTLAND
    (pp. 230-245)

    The colonizing Dutch called it Het Zwarte Land, the Black Country—not, it would seem, because of the soil, which is not black, nor because of the San hunters they skirmished with on their early invasive investigations and tentative settlements, but probably because of the indigenous vegetation, which is characteristically dark in some seasons. Nowadays the predominant summer color of the broad, open, mostly gently undulating landscape is the gold of wheatlands, with areas of green vineyards on the foothills and lower slopes of the isolated mountains. There are always other mountains on the horizon, and the skies are enormous....

  16. 11 BREEDE RIVER VALLEY
    (pp. 246-257)

    This is the Western Cape’s most wine-productive area, a long, wide valley with the Breede River and its tributaries as lifeblood. A great mountain barrier separates most of it from the coastal areas, leading the river to the ocean east of Agulhas. The three districts—Robertson, Worcester, and Breedekloof—together have something like a third of the country’s vines and produce rather more than a third of its wine, thanks to their high yields. A good deal of the annual harvest is destined for grape juice or distillation—as the large preponderance of Chenin Blanc and Colombard (some 11,000 hectares...

  17. 12 WALKER BAY AND CAPE AGULHAS
    (pp. 258-275)

    The land along the most southerly coastline of the Western Cape had to wait for the KWV quota system to be abandoned in 1992 before its potential for winegrowing could start to be fully explored. True, there was a very small premodern history of wine production in parts around the fishing village of Hermanus, and inland around Bot River there was some viticulture: an old property named Beaumont was revived as a fully functioning winery in 1994 after some years of more or less desultory grape-growing. Generally, however, vineyards would have been planted and wine made only for domestic use...

  18. 13 ELGIN AND OVERBERG
    (pp. 276-286)

    A track across the mountain range that the Dutch settlers called the Hottentots-Holland certainly long preceded their first brave and tentative penetrations through to the interior. The Khoikhoi knew the track and called it the Gantow, meaning “the way of the eland.” Not long after the arrival of the European settlers a wagon road overlaid it—presumably the least of the devastating problems being caused for the eland and other wild animals of the region. The land to the east of the Hottentots-Holland—as far as the Breede River—wasover ’t gebergte,“over the mountains,” now more tersely known...

  19. 14 TULBAGH AND CERES
    (pp. 287-294)

    It was first called the Land of Waveren—a deep inland rocky basin, enclosed on three sides by impressive mountains. Inhabited by, of course, San and Khoikhoi, it had first been seen by exploring white settlers in 1658, but they had found nothing to compensate for the heat and the distance from Table Bay. They were anyway ill with dysentery, and at last even van Riebeeck’s surveyor, Pieter Potter, turned his back on the view from the mountaintop. But by 1699 there was more pressure for expansion, and governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel rediscovered the valley and named it...

  20. 15 OLIFANTS RIVER, WEST COAST, AND CEDERBERG
    (pp. 295-299)

    What generalizations are possible about this vast area? It would be difficult even if one excluded isolated wards outside of the Olifants River area (Lamberts Bay, with just one patch of vines where brusque Atlantic winds brush the heat of the interior; mountainous inland Cederberg, with some of the Cape’s highest vineyards). One can find here rare old vineyards on farms producing mostly rooibos tea and wheat, capable of producing superb wines from juice that normally disappears into box-wine blends from cooperatives—Sadie Family, Botanica, and Cape of Good Hope (Anthonij Rupert) are among those making wines from dryland Sémillon...

  21. 16 KLEIN KAROO AND ADJACENT WARDS
    (pp. 300-306)

    The Klein (“little”) Karoo is perhaps the largest of the Wine of Origin regions in terms of area, but it has only scattered pockets of vines. Neither fact will surprise anyone driving through the long, semiarid basin that stretches eastward from the mountains defining one edge of the Breede River Valley. Vines are, in most parts, a vastly less likely sight than sparse vegetation and the occasional sheep cropping it under a blazing sky. Yet high in the mountains at the Klein Karoo’s edges—the Langeberg and Outeniqua to the south, and the Swartberg to the north—are some of...

  22. APPENDIX
    (pp. 307-310)
  23. BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTES
    (pp. 311-314)
  24. INDEX OF WINERIES
    (pp. 315-318)
  25. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 319-324)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 325-325)