The Cape winegrowing areas, situated in the narrow viticultural zone of the southern hemisphere, mainly have a Mediterranean climate and the mountain slopes and valleys form the ideal habitat for the wine grape Vitis vinifera, the products of which have given pleasure to man for many centuries. Long, sun-drenched summers and mild, wet winters contribute to the ideal conditions for viticulture at the Cape.
Liberated by the advent of democracy, the South African wine industry has gone from strength to strength, with exports growing by 219% between 1998 and 2010. Currently, more than 3 596 farmers cultivate some 101 016 hectares of land under vines. Some 275 600 people are employed both directly and indirectly in the wine industry. The annual harvest in 2010 amounted to 1 261 309 tons (984.8 million litres), of which 79% was used for wine.
The South African wine industry is backed by a state body, the Nietvoorbij Institute for Viticulture and Oenology, a leader in research with one of the most modern experimental wineries in the world and several experimental farms; the departments of viniculture and viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch; and the Elsenburg Agricultural College, which offers cellar technology. In a joint venture, the South African wine and table grape industries and Stellenbosch University established an Institute of Viticulture and Oenology (IVO) to enhance the international competitiveness of these sectors.
All wines for export must be granted an export licence. Samples of each batch of wine destined for foreign countries are sent to the Wine & Spirit Board at Nietvoorbij, Stellenbosch where they undergo detailed tasting tests and chemical analysis in the laboratories before licences are granted. An official seal is given to each bottle by the Wine & Spirit Board, which verifies that the claims made on the label regarding origin, vintage and grape variety are true. South Africa leads the world in environmental sustainability and regulated production integrity. From the 2010 vintage, a new seal for South African wines was introduced, which traces the wine from vine to bottle. The seal is a world first, and certifies a wine’s integrity as well as sustainability.
As far as international wine production is concerned, France leads with 17.3% of the total, Italy is second with 17.2%, Spain third with 13.0% and South Africa seventh with 3.5% (2010 figures).
- Estate wineries, which under the original legislation could make wine only from grapes grown on their own land. In 2004, a new dispensation did away with the traditional 'estate' and focuses instead on 'estate wine' which must be produced in contiguous vineyards farmed as single units. These units must also be equipped with facilities to enable all processes up to final certification. All previously registered estates have now automatically been registered as Units for the Production of Estate Wine. For the first time, they can use their names to brand their total wine production (ie estate as well as non-estate) but only certified estate wine may be labelled and marketed as such.
- Producer cellars (co-operatives), which on a communal basis process the grapes of their farmer member shareholders into wine - these co-operatives alone have invested vast amounts in production equipment and they press about 80% of South Africa's total wine harvest.
- Independent cellars and a number of wholesalers who buy in both grapes and wine, and make wine for bottling under their brand names, as well as making wine from grapes grown on their own wine farms.
South Africa: Old World or New?
Access WOSA’s Update on the SA Wine Industry
South African Wine in the 21st Century
An in-depth overview