While you are enjoying your chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc or merlot in the sun, you probably do not realize the importance of this refreshment for the South African economy. In almost every restaurant in Amsterdam, they serve wines from the southern country, since South Africa is the producer of 4.1% of the world’s wine, and therefore a really important player on the market for wine. With more than 100,000 hectares of vineyards, the South African economy really benefits from the expanding wine culture across the globe. As their way of farming is sustainable, and their wine is called to be from the ‘New World’, their wine is unique and has become very popular in a short period of time. With wine as the second-largest export product, the country found itself able to compete with established wine countries such as Italy and France. But what is it that made the country able to suddenly distinguish its wines from the well-known French and Italian ones?
Well, actually there are several reasons for the expansion of the product. First of all, the climate in South Africa is perfect for the production of grapes: there is a lot of sun, the soil is very fertile due to the differences in minerals, and the ground is not too dry—although the summer of 2016 was indeed too dry to result in a good harvest. Besides the fortunate climate, there has also been a fortunate business climate, since a lot of spare land was turned into vineyards by some passionate farmers, so there was both room and money for the production of wine.
Although you can see a very long tradition of wine production in France and Italy, the wine industry in South Africa only became important after the end of the Apartheid. During the Apartheid (1960-1990) a lot of companies were not allowed to trade with some of the grape farmers, which led to an enormous increase in wine exports after the Apartheid had come to an end. It thus makes a lot of sense that the South African wines are relatively ‘new’ in Europe.
The winemaking process
The South African way of winemaking is also different from the traditional ways of making the popular drink. In the Western Cape, they use French and American oak to flavour their wines but also use steel barrels to keep the freshness of the grapes within the wine. You might have experienced yourself that South African white wines, such as the sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc, are really fresh and dry. But not only the winemaking is unique, there are also grapes that only grow in South Africa, such as the pinotage.
All in all, we could state that the wine from the ‘New World’ is expanding across the world not just due to its unique taste and grapes, but also because of the fact that these wines are less expensive due to lower costs arising from the fortunate business and weather climate. During the Sefa Study Trip to Cape Town, we visited the Stellenbosch vineyards to taste some of the local wines, and I must say that they really taste different. If you ever get the chance to go there, I highly recommend you to do so, and if not: make sure to enjoy your South African wines somewhere else. You can get them everywhere!