Paarl is one of South Africa’s Western Cape’s key wine-producing areas. Paarl has a long history of wine production. French Huguenots began to settle, planting vines and orchards at trading outposts in the 1680s. South Africa’s Co-Operative of Wine Growers (KWV) had its headquarters here, and the Nederberg Wine Auction is held here every year.
Situated 37 miles inland from Cape Town, just north of Stellenbosch it is home to some of the 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 forming part of the Cape Fold Belt.
Paarl’s vineyards are on the lower slopes of Paarl Rock, on the northern side of Simonsberg Mountain and in the valley of the Berg River. The mountains provide well-drained granite and shale soils, while the valley floor is sandstone-based. Vineyards grown on the upper slopes benefit from the nutrient-poor soils because vines dig deeper for nourishment becoming stronger. Wines that are produced from vineyards higher up on the Paarl and Simonsberg Mountains tend to be of premium quality.
The mountain takes its name from the Dutch word for pearl because it glistens after rainfall. Paarl’s climate is hotter than coastal areas of the Western Cape. Long, hot summers and cold, rainy winters are typical and rainfall is moderate to high. The heat means vineyards are often irrigated over summer to help cool the plants.
Paarl’s variation of terroir gives winemakers opportunities to experiment with 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.