Calitzdorp is within the wine region of Klein Karoo, at the east end of the Western Cape of South Africa. It is located in between a number of large mountains, including the Swartberg and the Huisrivier Pass. This, combined with its lack of rainfall, make if a very dry, almost desert like area. Without the cooling breezes from the Atlantic Ocean, it is possible for the summers to become very hot indeed, with some temperatures reaching more than 100F, and the winters are also very hot, not usually falling below 40F. The soil drains well, and there is not much standing water in the district.
Due to the very dry soil of the area, and the alluvial soils that are used in farming, Calitzdorp has often been considered the Douro Valley of South Africa. The original valley in Portugal is the home of Port, and Calitzdorp is home to many port-wine making wine farms. Before the EU legislation that forbade the use of Port for any Country except Portugal, the district used to be known as the ‘Port wine capital’ in South Africa. The ground here is particularly accommodating to plants that enjoy very dry weather, including the Port blend grapes Tinta Barocca and Touriga Naçional.
As well as being the Port Capital of South Africa, the Calitzdorp district is also able to produce a range of distinct red blends, which can be similar to the wines of Portugal, or may resemble Brandy or Cognac. Nevertheless, it is as the country’s premium maker of port wines. This is extremely hardy for a wine region which only produces around 3% of the total wine of South Africa, and Calitzdorp is only a small town within that region. The very dry climate of Klein Karoo does not suit most wines, but the Calitzdorp district has found a way to produce internationally recognised fortified wines.
The poor soils of Calitzdorp continue to struggle to produce good white wines and red single varietals of wine, but the dry-soil liking Port grapes thrive. This is despite the risks of drought or flash flooding which many areas of Klein Karoo vulnerable. The very dry soil means that when heavy rainfall does happen, it will not be absorbed into the soil but instead runs down the surface, creating flooding. This can often cause problems for farmers, since harvests cannot be snatched up and preserved until the water dies down, and so a number of promising harvests have come to nothing in this wine district.
The major problem that Calitzdorp has for the moment is the labelling of its future Port-style wines. Most wine makers in the district seem to have chosen the ‘Cape blend’ title, in order to establish the unique origins of their products. The wine is distinctive enough to ensure that the wine-makers in the Calitzdorp area can continue to produce their fortified wines, despite the ruling from the EU. By blending the Tinta Barocca with other reds such as Merlot or Shiraz, the producers can make a wine which resembles Port, but is uniquely from the Eastern part of the wine regions of South Africa.