Most of the Cape’s winegrowing regions are influenced by one of the two mighty oceans that meet at this southernmost tip of Africa: the Atlantic and the Indian oceans.
Combine beneficial maritime influences like regular coastal fog and cooling sea breezes with a moderate Mediterranean climate, distinctive and varied topography, and diverse soils, and you have the ideal conditions in which to create wines of unique character and complexity.
Coupled to this, a winemaking tradition and history dating back over 350 years blends the restrained elegance of the Old World with the accessible fruit-driven styles of the New, making for wines which eloquently express the unique terroir of the Cape. No wonder that this extraordinary wealth of natural assets and tradition should instill South Africa’s wines with a true sense of place.
The word “terroir” has become quite a buzzword in the wine world. All around the planet, the identification of viticultural terroir is receiving a lot of attention, backed by an increasing demand by the consumer for knowledge and understanding of the origin of each wine.
South Africa has become a New World leader in terroir research, the basis of a multi-disciplinary program currently being carried out at the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij Institute of Viticulture and Oenology in Stellenbosch and the University of Stellenbosch.
Begun over 16 years ago to identify what constitutes terroir and its effects on grape quality and style, it has already had a significant impact on better matching between varieties and location in the Cape wine lands, as well as on current viticultural practices such as canopy management and trellising, and unlocking the potential of new winegrowing areas.
As the research continues, so does the ongoing debate about which inter-related environmental factors are the most important in influencing the outcome of the wines. This is not simply an academic exercise but a committed attempt to grow better wines, part of a focused shift from grape farming to wine growing.