Paarl

Paarl is one of South Africa's most famous wine-producing areas. Located 37 miles (60km) inland from Cape Town and just north of Stellenbosch, it is home to some of the Western Cape's best known wineries. Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Chardonnay and Shiraz are all important grape varieties in the region.

The town of Paarl is bordered on the east by the Boland Mountains and on the west by the imposing Paarl Rock. As a district, it encompasses the wards of Wellington, Voor Paardeberg and Simonsberg-Paarl. Franschhoek Valley can be found 15 miles (24km) south-west of Paarl, and Stellenbosch lies just beyond the Simonsberg Mountain, a large granite outcrop that forms a part of the Cape Fold Belt.

Paarl's vineyards are found on the lower slopes of Paarl Rock, on the northern side of Simonsberg Mountain and in the valley of the Berg River. The two mountains provide well drained granite and shale soils for the vines, while the soil on the valley floor is more sandstone based. Vineyards grown on the upper slopes benefit from these nutrient poor soils: vines are forced to dig deeper for nourishment, making them stronger and inhibiting yields. As a result, wines that are produced from vineyards higher up on the Paarl and Simonsberg Mountains tend to be of a more premium quality.

Paarl's climate is relatively hot compared to the more coastal areas of the Western Cape. Long, hot summers and cold, rainy winters are typical of the area. Rainfall is moderate to high, but such is the heat that vineyards are often irrigated over summer to help cool the plants. The Atlantic Ocean, 60km away, has a small amount of influence in the form of a cooling afternoon breeze.

Paarl has a long history of wine production. French Huguenots began to settle at the small trading outpost in the 1680s, planting vines and orchards. The historic South Africa Co-Operative Wine Growers Association (KWV) had its headquarters here, and the famous Nederberg Wine Auction is held here every year. The mountain takes its name from the Dutch word for pearl because of the way it glistens after rainfall.

Paarl's huge variation of terroir gives winemakers opportunities to experiment with many different grape varieties and blends. The red wines, made largely from Shiraz, Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon (often found in a Bordeaux blend) are rich and robust, with a great intensity of fruit. The white wines are fruit driven and tropical, usually made from Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.
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