Elgin, one of two wards in the Overberg district, is close to Stellenbosch, and lies on the Western Cape area of South Africa. Being near to the coast, it is often noted as being particularly cold, and this is often welcomed by the farmers who farm many fruit crops here. Elgin gets its name from an apple orchard called Glen Elgin, although it was originally called Koffiekraal. The Elgin valley and ward are still known most for being the place where apples in South Africa come from, and it produces almost two thirds of the apple crop for the whole country, some of which is then shipped overseas, to consumers in Europe and America.
In more recent years, Elgin has also made a name for itself among wine fans, as a location for cool-climate wine farms. It is this cold weather which really give Elgin its title as a ward, rather than simply being swallowed up in the wider Overberg district. The simple fact is that the closeness of Elgin ward to the coast, plus chill winds from the mountain ranges that the ward sits in, have created a chilly climate which is ideal for the production of certain types of wine.
Although many of South Africa’s wine districts are congratulated for being like the Mediterranean, some of the wines which are popular in the country have not been near that side of France, and come from the much colder lands up in the North, near the Rhineland, and near Flanders. This means that vines which would flourish in the climates of Europe will struggle when planted here, and it also means that certain locations in South Africa, such as the Elgin ward, are ideal for these vines, and that farmers who are prepared to put up with the cold weather and mists are likely to receive a good return on their investment, producing good crops of wine.
The vines which prefer colder climates are those which have their roots in the Burgundy climate, which includes wines such as Pinot Noir. However, the majority of vines which need to be treated carefully are usually white wine plants, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer. These wines in particular need to be taken care of, because without a slow ripening season, which can take longer than the red varieties, the grapes can produce ‘green’ or unripe wines which taste bitter and unpleasant.
Another section of the wine making community has learned to appreciate the way in which cold slows down the ripening time of a grape, and therefore forces it to stay unripe, absorbing vitamins and minerals from the soil. While the grape is absorbing this soil, it is also taking in characteristics unique to that soil, and that is why many farmers are now using the suspended ripening aspect of cold climate wine farming to produce good red wines, and particularly Bordeaux red blends, which need to be very distinctive in order to make a good match. Cold climate growing is ideal for this purpose.