South Africa has one of the longest histories of producing wine amongst the so-called 'New World' wine regions. Decades of decay and non-investment during the Apartheid years saw South Africa's burgeoning wine industry left in the economic doldrums, from which it only began to emerge in the 1990's.
High yields, poor farming practice and issues with knowing what grapes suited particular soils were all slowly readicated, until the present day when South Africa can claim to have some of the most excting wines within its neatly farmed vineyards. The temperate climate of South Africa is key, with warm summers and cool winters, decent rainfall (irrigation is allowed, and sometimes crucial in recent years). Cool breezes are often felt from nearby False Bay, and the proximity to mountains mean that more adventurous winemakers are now searching out pockets of cool climate soil to plant internationsl grape varieties in.
South Africa has always used the Chenin Blanc grape as a workhorse, using it from every style of wine, dry to sweet, still to sparkling, even Fortified and sometimes distilled into Cape Brandy. In the last few years more Sauvignon Blanc has been planted, (to great acclaim) along with Chardonnay, Riesling and Viognier. This drive to use more international grape varieties has paid dividends, with South African Sauvignon Blanc being recognsed as a rival to New Zealand in some years, and the quality of her Chardonnays being seen as a more acceptable 'European' style than California and Australia, when planted in the right area and the oak influence tamed.
Red wines are a major strength of South Africa, due in no small part to the national obsession with their 'local' grape Pinotage. A cross of Cinsault and Pinot Noir, Pinotage has become synonymous with the Cape, and is capable of making red wines that can be mediocre at best, all the way to stellar and complex. Recently, areas such as Stellenbosch and Paarl have planted more Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Merlot to rival wines coming from Chile, Australia and the USA. All show great promise and Pinot Noir is now firmly entrenched in the cool sites around the coastal regions of the Cape, where it is making red wines that arguably are as good as many Burgundies, and certainly rival Pinot's from NZ and the USA. Other regions of South Africa continue with the centuries -old tradition of making highly concentrated dessert wines from Muscat and old-vine Chenin. A recent development in South Africa has been the prominence given to Sustainable and Bio-Dynamic wine production.