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Breede River Valley

The Breede River Valley is a sheltered wine producing area in the Western Cape region of South Africa. Surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges, the valley is responsible for a large proportion of the country's total wine production. Many different grape varieties are grown here, including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage and Shiraz.

Stretching from Breedekloof in the west to Swellendam in the east, the Breede River Valley runs for approximately 80 miles (130km) in an east-west direction. The Langeberg Mountains on the valley’s northern border separate it from the semi-desert of the Klein Karoo, while the Boland Mountains separate it from Paarl and Stellenbosch in the west. The Riversonderend Mountains in the south protect the valley from the oceanic influences of the southern coast. The region encompasses the smaller districts of Worcester, Breedekloof, Robertson and Swellendam in the Wine of Origin (WO) scheme.

Vineyards in the Breede River Valley cover a wide range of terrain. Grapes used in bulk production and for distilling are planted on the valley floor along the banks of the river. More premium wines are made from vineyards planted in the foothills of the mountains that surround the valley. Here, the vines can take advantage of the microclimates created by the altitude and aspect of the slopes.

Soil types in the Breede River Valley are varied. Surrounding the river, they are mainly alluvial, with some sandy loam in the Breedekloof area. Higher in the mountains, they are more rocky and stony. Shale and sandstone are dominant in Worcester, while Robertson's red, gravelly soils benefit from pockets of limestone, which add a chalky minerality to the wines made there.

Winters in the Breede River Valley are generally colder than in the Western Cape's more coastal regions, allowing the vines to achieve proper dormancy. Rainfall is largely contained to the cold winter months, when vines are dormant and can store up resources for the growing season. Summers are hot and dry, and irrigation is necessary in most of the valley. Water for this is abundant, coming from both the river and the sizable Brandvlei Dam.

Settlers arrived in the valley in the 17th century when farmland surrounding the Cape became scarce. The growth of livestock farming saw the establishment of the towns of Worcester and Robertson. German settlers began to cultivate the land in the mid-19th century, planting both orchards and vineyards.

Today, roughly 40 percent of the vines planted in South Africa can be found in the Breede River Valley. The wineries here range from small, boutique operations to huge co-operatives. Robertson is home to some of South Africa's best known producers, while Worcester is associated with the production of bulk wine and brandy distilling.