Known as the ‘Red Route’ due to the large number of red wines produced in the district, Paarl lies close to Stellenbosch, with mountain ranges including the Klein Drakenstein and Groot mountains to the South. It contains the Berg river, which flows down from these mountains, and into the Paarl wine regions, giving a source of moisture to the surrounding wine farms. It is one of the most important wine-making areas in South Africa, and there are numerous wine farms located across its borders. This area is known for its ability to grow even very difficult wines, thanks to the particular nature of the climate and landscape.
Perhaps the most important reason why Paarl has become so big in South Africa is the soil. There are a few clear varieties of soil in the region that make up wards, separate areas that create distinct wines. Firstly, there is the land along the sides of the Berg River, which begins at Paarl town, and then moves towards the north. The land around the river is a mix of clay and the heavy sandstone brought down the river from Table Mountain. There are also the slopes of the many mountain ranges in the Paarl district. These are mainly decomposed granite, and they impart a very thick mineral background to the soil. The third location is in the north east, where the soil is distinctive, and known as Malmesbury shale.
The area around Paarl has been planted since the 17th century, when Dutch settlers made camp in the region. These settlers farmed a variety of different items, including fruit orchards, sheep and cattle, and vegetables, but they quickly found that the best type of farming for the region was vineyards. The production of wine in the district has been constant since the first settlements were created, and there are now many wine farms, wine estates and wineries in the district.
Paarl is the largest town in the district, and can be very busy. The name Paarl comes from a description of the mountain nearby, shimmering in the morning sun, which reminded the settlers of diamonds and pearls. The town was originally known as Paarlberg. It is the home of the KWV wine head office. The KWV was once the most important wine regulatory body in South Africa, but it has fallen out of use due to a number of poor decisions which resulted in many vineyard owners finding it hard to make a living.
Paarl was once the heart of the wine industry in South Africa, but it is now competing with a number of other districts. It tries to promote itself through a number of wine-related festivals and celebrations which run throughout the year, designed as tourist attractions. Paarl has also been vigorous in promoting its own Wine Route, which is a path through the town, visiting the various wine farms which are spread out around the surrounding countryside. The ambition to be top once again attracts wine farmers who feel driven, but it is unlikely that Paarl will ever again be the top wine producing district in South Africa.