S. Africa’s wine­mak­ers em­brace in­no­va­tion

The China Post - - ARTS -

“South Africa’s vine­yards are es­pe­cially beau­ti­ful, cover a vast range of ter­roirs, and are fo­cus­ing on in­no­va­tion.”

The area around Cape Town is known as the Cape Flo­ral King­dom (CFK). It is a world her­itage site and home to 10,000 plant species, more than all the plants in the en­tire north­ern hemi­sphere. About 70 per­cent of the plants in the CFK can only be found in the south west tip of South Africa.

Par­al­lels ex­ist be­tween the wine re­gions of the for­mer Soviet bloc na­tions in East Europe and South Africa. In both places the wine in­dus­try has blos­somed in the past decade as each coun­try em­braces in­no­va­tion af­ter a long pe­riod of iso­la­tion from the rest of the world.

The East bloc na­tions were iso­lated from 1945 un­til the fall of the Ber­lin wall in 1989. South Africa was es­tranged from the world be­cause of its pol­icy of apartheid from 1948 un­til it em­braced demo­cratic in­de­pen­dence in 1994. In Bulgaria, one of the for­mer Soviet satel­lites, col­lec­tivized land has been re­turned to its orig­i­nal own­ers with var­i­ous de­grees of suc­cess.

Mean­while, South Africa has de­vel­oped a ma­jor fo­cus on sus­tain­able farm­ing and look­ing af­ter its land, which is vi­tal be­cause of wa­ter short­ages. Sus­tain­able Wine South Africa (SWSA) op­er­ates as an um­brella group to unite the work of a range of rel­e­vant groups in­clud­ing the In­te­grated Pro­duc­tion of Wine (IPW) scheme, the Bio­di­ver­sity and Wine Ini­tia­tive (BWI) and Wines of South Africa (WOSA).

Un­der the IPW scheme wine­mak­ers grow grapes ac­cord­ing to in­de­pen­dent guide­lines in re­la­tion to use of sprays, re­cy­cling of wa­ter and pro­tec­tion of nat­u­ral habi­tats. In the past decade more than a third of South Africa’s 600 wine farms have cre­ated 143,000 hectares of con­ser­va­tion ar­eas on their farms, much more than the 99,463 hectares cur­rently un­der vine.

South Africa also pro­motes eth­i­cal trad­ing prac­tices, and the coun­try has more Fair­trade winer­ies than any­where in the world. Last year two thirds of all Fair­trade wine sales came from South Africa. The Fair­trade logo on a bot­tle means the wine has been pro­duced in a sus­tain­able and eth­i­cal way.

Un­der the Fair­trade ban­ner, Dou­glas Green Wines funded a mo­bile li­brary that serves more than 1,200 chil­dren in the Cape winelands. The truck car­ries 5,000 books and 20 lap­top com­put­ers, com­plete with an in-truck Wi-Fi sys­tem.

Wines of South Africa sup­ports the Peb­bles Pro­ject, which im­proves the lives of dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren in ru­ral ar­eas. Founder Sophia Warner aims to give chil­dren a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion within strong fam­ily struc­tures in sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ties.

The past decade in South African has seen a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in qual­ity, noted De­bra Meiburg MW. At the an­nual In­ter­na­tional Wine and Spirit Com­pe­ti­tion (IWSC) awards an­nounced ear­lier this month South Africa re­ceived 53 gold medals, a 50 per­cent in­crease on the pre­vi­ous year. Es­tab­lished in 1969, IWSC was the first wine com­pe­ti­tion in the world, and cur­rently as­sesses wine from 90 coun­tries.

Vet­eran wine­maker Ken For­rester be­lieves the stan­dard of South African wines has never been bet­ter. In 1990 the coun­try had about 200 winer­ies. A quar­ter cen­tury later that num­ber has tre­bled. Wine ex­ports have also boomed. In 1992 South Africa ex­ported 22 mil­lion liters, but by 2014 that amount had surged to 422 mil­lion liters.

Ex­ports rep­re­sent al­most 58 per­cent of to­tal pro­duc­tion. Ex­ports to China have risen al­most 90 per­cent in re­cent years, though from a small base.

Wine tourism is now worth 6,000 mil­lion rand a year. The wine in­dus­try con­trib­utes about 1.2 per cent of the coun­try’s GDP and pro­vides 300,000 jobs, ac­cord­ing to Alan Winde, min­is­ter of eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Western Cape province.

For all its beauty, South Africa is a tough place to make wine. Wine­maker Graham Knox, who has writ­ten four books about South African wine, said that winds up to 150 kph can shred vines and wipe out en­tire crops. Bruce Jack, wine­maker and founder of Flag­stone Wines, pre­sented a seminar on the in­flu­ence of wind on wine­mak­ing at CapeWine in CapeTown this week. “No other coun­try has been dom­i­nated by wind as South Africa, and wind has a big ef­fect on grape grow­ing,” Jack said. Or­ga­nized by Wines of South Africa, CapeWine is the in­dus­try’s flag­ship event and the big­gest trade show in the south­ern hemi­sphere. It is held ev­ery three years.

Richard Ker­shaw MW, of Ker­shaw Wines, has been mak­ing wine in South Africa since 1999 af­ter mov­ing there from the UK. He said the coun­try has thou­sands of dif­fer­ent ter­roirs be­cause of its an­cient ge­ol­ogy. “Cli­mate, al­ti­tude, clones and soil. These el­e­ments are all build­ing blocks in the wine­mak­ing process.” He likens wine­mak­ing to yacht rac­ing. “Ev­ery­one has a yacht and sails but it’s how you rig the sails and man­age the yacht that makes the dif­fer­ence.” Ker­shaw’s range of chardon­nays is ex­cit­ingly sublime.

Alex Starey makes ex­cel­lent white blends at the Keer­mont es­tate in Stel­len­bosch. He cel­e­brates the co-op­er­a­tive na­ture of wine­mak­ing. “If you like some­one’s wine you can phone them and they will of­fer to help. That is a good thing about the in­dus­try here.”

New re­gions have emerged in re­cent years. Some of the most ex­cit­ing in­clude El­gin, Cape Agul­has and Swart­land. David Traf­ford founded a vine­yard at one of the most ex­treme, in Malgas about 230 km east of Cape Town. The Si­jnn range will be the topic of a fu­ture col­umn. Stephen Quinn writes about wine for a va­ri­ety of publi­ca­tions in the re­gion. From 1975 he was a jour­nal­ist for two decades with the Bangkok Post; BBC-TV, The Guardian, ITN, the UK Press As­so­ci­a­tion; TVNZ; the Mid­dle East Broad­cast­ing Cen­ter in Dubai and a range of re­gional news­pa­pers in Aus­tralia. Dr. Quinn be­came a jour­nal­ism ed­u­ca­tor in 1996, but re­turned to jour­nal­ism full time in 2011. He is based in Hong Kong and is the au­thor of 17 books. Annabel Jack­son has worked in the wine in­dus­try for more than 20 years, and has writ­ten eight books about wine and food. She is an Ad­vanced Am­bas­sador of the Academy of Wines of Por­tu­gal, and teaches wine mar­ket­ing at the Univer­sity of Brighton in the United King­dom.

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