South Africa has a long history of producing good ports, probably connected to its association with Portuguese traders who landed on the shores. Early in the 19th century, Port was being made in Calitzdorp, soon known as the Port Capital of South Africa. Since 1992, the country has had its own association, the South African Port Producers Association, designed to help regulate the industry and ensure that the wines being produced were of the top quality. In 1992, the South African port wines were being produced in great numbers, but they were not always of very good quality, with a number of them being purely fortified wines rather than Ports, and many of the brands not using the traditional Port grapes such as Tinta Barocca.
However, the survival of South African Port was challenged by the development of the IVP (Instituto do Vinho do Porto), which was created to regulate the production of Port around the world, and to effectively prevent the wine from being made outside of Portugal. This was reinforced with an EU ruling in 2002 which limited the Port name and production to Portugal (along with similar rulings which prevented Champagne from being manufactured anywhere but France). The South African government signed a trade agreement, effective from January 2012, that forbids the use of Port for any wine product made outside of Portugal. These rulings effectively prevent South Africa from describing any of the flavoured mixed wine products that they produce as ‘Port’, regardless of where the wine is being sold. This has effectively cut off a familiar name under which these products can be sold.
Although South Africa can no longer make ‘Port‘, it is still producing Port-style wines in large numbers. The South African Port industry produces between 200,000 and 300,000 cases of port-style wines each year, which looks rather paltry compared to the 10 million cases made by Portugal, but is still a significant output for a New World nation. The majority of those cases are sold within the domestic market, it is estimated that only about 15 percent of all South Africa’s Port-style wines are sold outside of its borders. Since this regulation has come into force, users are looking for different words to describe the essential Port mix. One solution has been to use the words for Port, such as Ruby, Vintage or Tawny, combined with the word ‘Cape’. The EU has agreed to recognise this name as geographically exclusive to South Africa, which allows port-style wine makers at least a name that they can title clearly and without restriction.
Port wine-makers in South Africa have become increasingly despondent about the future for their wines, although they plan to use wording which is designed to remind drinkers of Port. They may even use the phrase ‘port style’ on the marketing for their wines, as the restrictions are so far limited only to the labelling of the bottles. This suggests that South African Port makers may still be able to attract drinkers to their special wines.