South Africa

South Africa is one of the most prominent wine producing countries in the Southern Hemisphere. With more than 300 years of winemaking history, it is often described as bridging the gap between the Old World and New. The majority of wines are made using New World winemaking techniques, but they often have more in common stylistically with their Old World counterparts.

South Africa's wine industry is distributed around the lush, rugged landscape of the Western Cape. Here, the abundance of mountains, valleys and plateaux allow winemakers to produce a diverse range of styles. Vineyards are also found in the Northern Cape's Orange River region, where the flat, barren landscape is dominated by the Kalahari Desert. Most of South Africa's wine producing regions have a Mediterranean climate, significantly influenced by the meeting of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

The country's signature variety is Pinotage, a crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault that is rarely found in quantity in any other wine producing country. Shiraz is widely planted also, as are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (often found together in a Bordeaux Blend). Chenin Blanc is the republic's most planted grape, and South African Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have become popular internationally in recent years. The Wine of Origin system, a legal structure introduced in 1972 to acknowledge and protect the diversity of terroir in the country, classifies South Africa into the regions, districts and wards where vineyards are found.

Vines were first planted in South Africa by Dutch settlers in the 1650s, although wine production did not really begin to take off until French Huguenots arrived with viticultural skills and knowledge in the 1680s. South Africa's oldest wine estate is located in Constantia, where the production of the legendary dessert wine Vin de Constance gave the region worldwide fame in the 18th and 19th centuries. Stellenbosch is equally historic as a wine producing region, the first vineyards having been planted here in the 1690s.

The South African wine industry suffered numerous setbacks during the 19th and 20th centuries. A devastating outbreak of phylloxera in the 1860s all but killed off the production of Vin de Constance. Throughout the 20th century, the South African Co-Operative Wine Growers Association (better known as KWV) restricted the production of wines in such a way that innovation was near impossible and quantity was prioritised over quality. Its control over the South African wine sector lasted until the 1990s, and even now, the country's industry is unusual for its high number of co-operatives.

South African wine fell out of favour internationally during the 20th century, reaching an all time low when trade sanctions were placed on the country in the 1980s due to its apartheid policies. It was Nelson Mandela who helped to reinvigorate the industry: wines from the Rust en Vrede estate in Stellenbosch were served at his 1993 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony dinner in Oslo, Norway.

Today, South Africa is the ninth largest producer of wine in the world, with some 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) under vine. More than 250,000 people are employed in the industry and South African wine has enjoyed international attention and acclaim for its wide variety of styles.
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