South Africa is one of the most prominent wine-producing countries in the Southern Hemisphere. Since the end of apartheid, the South African wine industry has enjoyed international attention and acclaim for its wide variety of wine styles and grape varieties.

With more than 300 years of history, South African winemaking 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 often have more in common stylistically with their Old World counterparts.

In 1685, the first winery, Constantia, was established. The winery still exists today.

Most of South Africa’s wine-producing regions have a Mediterranean climate, significantly influenced by the meeting of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Vineyards are rarely found more than 50 kilometres from the coastline.

South Africa was still trying to shed its bad reputation as a bulk, cheap, crappy wine-producing country at the turn of the century. The potential of SA being a star in the wine industry has always been there. The terroir is perfect for quality wine production. Slowly but surely over the last two decades, wines coming out of South Africa have improved dramatically.

The country’s signature variety is Pinotage, an indigenous crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut that is rarely found in quantity in any other wine-producing country. Shiraz is widely planted also, as are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

However, it is white grape varieties that account for 55 percent of the country’s 93,000 hectares (230,000 acres) of vineyards. Chenin Blanc is the republic’s most planted grape with 18.5 percent of all plantings. However, the finest white wines are produced from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, both of which have become popular on an international level in recent years.

Today, South African wines straddle Old World and New: the wines often smell of ripe, silky fruit, but showcase earthy flavours and finish with restraint. Because of the generally warm climate, South Africa’s red grapes in particular get very ripe and produce full, high-alcohol wines.

Fun facts

  • South Africa is one of the oldest wine regions outside of Europe.
  • It currently ranks 8th in world wine production.
  • South Africa is planted to roughly 55% white grapes, and 45% red grapes.
  • Grape varieties are called cultivars.
  • The wine production area is called the Cape Winelands.
  • Wineries/vineyards are called wine farms.
  • There are over 1,000 wine farms in South Africa.

Ken Forrester

A renowned South African wine available at is Ken Forrester, a leading proponent of Chenin Blanc.

Ken Forrester began making wine just over a decade ago. In 10 years, production has zoomed from an initial level of 400 cases to some 85 000; now he’s known the world over as Mr Chenin Blanc, because it’s his work with South Africa’s oft-despised most widely planted variety, that has raised his profile as a winegrower.

One of his skills is evidently his keen sense of timing. Eleven years ago, he purchased a derelict wine farm, which hadn’t been lived on for some six years. This was when the industry was in the doldrums, and like a skilled surfer, he caught the South African wine industry’s wave of expansion almost perfectly.

Forrester’s prize vineyard is his 38-year-old block of bush vine Chenin at the front of his property. ‘Managing it carefully is the key to quality’, he says. Yields are kept at four tons/hectare and each bunch is left with 16–18 leaves for ripening. Six km from the ocean, the property enjoys climate moderation from a cool patch of air that hangs around: he harvests his Sauvignon three weeks later than some other parts of Stellenbosch.