South Africa’s wine tourism has been rated the best-developed in the world by International Wine Review, one of the world’s most influential opinion formers on wine.
Wine tourism is growing fast worldwide and plays an especially important role in South Africa. The country’s reputation for making high-quality wine is centuries old, but has aged as fine as its irresistible reds.
The world had largely forgotten it by the time apartheid ended some two decades ago. But since then, the industry has rapidly modernised, and South African winemakers have reacquainted themselves with the rest of the wine-loving world – and vice versa.
Today, the best of South African wine is up there with the rest.
Wine from the ‘dark continent’
Wine from the so-called ‘dark continent’ was once considered strange by many European and American wine drinkers. Even though there are vineyards located all over Africa, including Algeria, Morocco, Zimbabwe and Kenya, it is down south in the Cape, where climactic conditions mimic those of the old wine countries like Italy, France, Germany and Spain, that the continent’s finest wines are produced.
South Africa's vineyards are mostly situated in the Western Cape near the coast. The Cape winelands stretch from the rugged mountains and multi-directional slopes of the coastal region to the open plains of the Klein Karoo where viticulture - the study of grape cultivation - takes place mainly in the idyllic riverine valleys.
During their review, the publication’s editor Don Winkler and publisher Mike Potashnik visited the winelands in December 2011 to evaluate the country’s top premium and ultra-premium wines, and at the same time evaluated its wine tourism.
“While the country is located far from most foreign wine lovers, it offers huge rewards to those who visit its wine country,” they wrote in their latest report.
“Most wineries have excellent tasting facilities and many have superb restaurants with spectacular mountain vineyard views.”
Great Wine Capitals
Andre Morgenthal, spokesperson for the Cape Town and Cape Winelands chapter of the Great Wine Capitals (GWC), is excited over the revelation.
“That is high praise indeed, coming as it does on the back of the US Weather Channel recently placing the Cape winelands second after Andalucia in Spain on its annual list of the World’s Top Ten Wine Trails,” he said.
The GWC - a network of the world’s leading wine-producing cities and regions dedicated to advancing the standards of wine tourism – was established in 1999 and Cape Town has been a member since 2001.
Its members, in addition to Cape Town and the winelands, include Mainz-Rheinhessen (Germany), Bilbao-Rioja (Spain), Bordeaux (France), Florence (Italy), Mendoza (Argentina), Porto (Portugal), San Francisco-Napa Valley (United States) and New Zealand’s Christchurch on South Island.
The network organises an international best of wine tourism competition every year, with the municipalities of Cape Town and those located in the winelands contributing to the running costs of the local competition.
Last year the competition saw La Motte wine estate near Franschhoek named the South African winner of the 2012 awards at a ceremony held in Mainz, Germany, in October 2011.
Hein Koegelenberg, CEO and head winemaker of La Motte, said their major focus has always been producing exceptional wines for local and international markets. He added that the award is a great inspiration following shortly after La Motte's nomination in the top 20 of the Eat Out DSTV Food Network Restaurants Awards.
The competition has grown enormously in stature in the local wine industry as the importance of wine tourism in the Western Cape’s economy increases.
Morgenthal, who is also communications manager of Wines of South Africa, said not only had the number of participating wineries in the competition escalated since Cape Town was inducted into the network in 2001, but the standard of entries had also improved.
“I believe it is because participants have benefited substantially from benchmarking themselves against international best practice,” he said.
“The quality of facilities and services offered has improved greatly. While choosing the winners was a fairly straightforward exercise in the early years, it now requires hours of deliberation as virtually all the entries are of such a high standard that very little separates the ultimate winner from its closest competitors.”
The role of wine in the economy
The attractions of the wine industry are seen as a major factor in the growth of Cape Town’s tourism industry, which has maintained its growth despite the global economic slump.
“Wine tourism is a vital product offering as it helps improve the country’s competitiveness against destinations like Brazil, Australia, Kenya and Thailand,” said tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.
It is estimated that wine tourism now generates annual income in excess of R5-billion (US$590-million) while also being a major job creator. The total wine exports from South Africa stood at 350 564 774 litres in 2011, with Europe as its biggest buyer overall.
The sector has contributed significantly to economic growth and job creation in South Africa, having generated an estimated R4.3-billion (US$507-million) in 2009 alone.
Van Schalkwyk said the wine tourism sector in South Africa will always have strong roots from which to grow even further in the international market.
“I believe wine tourism can contribute in a significant way and we look forward to continued constructive engagement with the industry,” he said.
Top US ratings for South African Shiraz
A Hartenberg Shiraz crafted exclusively for the 2011 Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) Auction by acclaimed winemaker Carl Schultz was rated at 90 and 91 points by two leading wine commentators at tastings of last year's auction line in New York.
As one of South Africa's oldest shiraz-producing estates, Hartenberg enjoys a reputation for high-end quality and consistency, with a track record spanning nearly 40 years.
The senior editor of the Wine Spectator, James Molesworth, awarded 91 points to the Hartenberg Shiraz CWG 2009.
“This ripe, fleshy red offers linzer torte, blackberry paste and fig sauce notes, carried by enticing spice and black liquorice hints,” he said at the time. “The long, juicy finish lets the fruit drip nicely.”
Steve Tanzer of the authoritative International Wine Cellar, who found the average level of quality of the 2011 auction wines higher than ever before, gave the wine a 90-point rating, describing it as “rich, creamy and sweet, with easy-going dark fruit and wild herb flavours nicely framed by harmonious acidity”.
“This silky-sweet shiraz finishes with ripe, dusty, building tannins and good structure for aging,” he said.