Success story of SA wine

2008-04-04 00:00

KWAZULU-Natal is a bit like

Zimbabwe — it is not famous for its wines. Visiting our son, who is captaining the Cape Town Villagers rugby team, provided a chance to visit the great winelands of the Cape. The objective was to obtain an intimate feeling for the wine industry. This can only be achieved by supping a fair number of wines.

After seeing our son badly dented by the enormous Johan Ackerman, his opposing lock, there was a need to relieve the pain by setting out on the wine route.

At this time of the year it is the end of the grape-harvesting season and the vines are looking pretty drab but this was made up for by the magnificent mountains and views of the ocean as we climbed over and into the Franschhoek

valley and on to our first stop at the Backsberg Estate. The restaurant, set in beautiful gardens, was unfortunately full so we pressed on through the winelands stopping at the relatively unknown Cowlin estate where the wine was excellent as was the service with a choice of delicious cheeses.

The family is not one for spitting out wine after tasting so it was not long before it was essential to return to the safety of Cape Town. But the history of the region draws you as you wend your way back.

Wines originated in Persia as long ago as 8 000 BC and the practice of wine making was established in South Africa in 1657.

Jan van Riebeek, first governor at the Cape, planted the first vines. You may remember that the Dutch East India Company appointed Van Riebeek to set up a refreshment station in the Cape to service passing ships. What better refreshment than wine!

In 1679 Simon van der Stel was appointed governor and with his interest in wine and the assistance of French, Huguenots, who had fled from persecution in Europe, a wine drinking culture was established.

By 1700 viticulture was established as an independent branch of agriculture. The first internationally successful wines were produced from the Constantia farms. With Britain at war with the French South Africa became a good source of wine for the Brits. Unfortunately, the devastation caused by the uncontrollable spread of the Phylloxera parasitic insect in 1885 followed by the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer war in 1899 brought the industry to its knees. The decline in popularity of sweet wines did not help.

In 1916 the Co-operative Wine Growers Association of SA (KWV) was formed and sold wines internationally under the KWV label. Today KWV is a private company and industry responsibilities were taken over in 1999 by Sawit (SA Wine Industry Trust).

Some important milestones in the industry include the creation of South Africa’s own variety —

Pinotage — by Professor I.A. Perold in 1925. In 1964 sales of Lieberstein topped 31 million litres making it the largest selling bottled wine in the world. In 1977 the first Nederburg Auction of rare wines was held.

During the last seven years the wine industry has undergone immense change. In 2002 the SA Wine and Brandy Company (SAWB) was formed to bring all players together to make the wine industry internationally competitive. In 2006 this body was replaced by the SA Wine Industry Council which concentrates on research, business development and marketing.

There are over 350 million vines planted in South Africa of which 70% are used for wine. South Africa is the ninth largest producer in the world with 3,7% of the world’s vineyards.

The Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) system has been

established to elevate South African wine-making standards and the BWI (Biodiversity Wine Institute) intends to ensure that the biodiversity of the Cape fynbos kingdom is preserved and encouraged.

A visit to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden made it clear that there is an enormous programme in the Cape to preserve the biodiversity of the unique local plant life.

We returned from the Cape pretty versadig and happy that the South African wine industry has obviously matured with international recognition for both its products and its respect for the

environment.

• Alastair Paterson is an

agricultural consultant. He can be contacted at 033 330 4817, 082 880 9002 or e-mail

agpaterson@satweb.co.za

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