Stellenbosch is a vital wine producing district in the Western Cape of South Africa, being close to Cape Town. Stellenbosch was one of the first towns to be founded away from the Cape, and was chosen due to its rugged but fertile terrains. The land is eminently suitable for vineyards, and when Huguenot settlers moved there in the 1690s, they quickly realised that their farms could be used to grow vines. The district is now so heavily populated with wine farms that it has become the wine-producing capital of South Africa, with most of the production consisting of red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage.
The majority of Stellenbosch district lies on hilly ground, with an average of height above sea level of about 100m (330ft). The most significant mountain range is known as the Cape Fold range, and this helps to shelter some of the wine farms from the colder weather. Despite the fact that there are chill winds from the False Bay reaching Stellenbosch, the district still has a very warm climate, which has been compared to the Mediterranean. The growing seasons in particular are very warm, dry and humid, allowing grapes to flourish. The winter is cooler, perfect for vines which need a period of hibernation before they are ready for the next season.
The Stellenbosch area is particularly good for red wines, due to the dark soils of the valley bed and the decomposed granites which are available on the hills. These soils allow the red wines to pick up a good taste of earth, giving them a mineral finish which is well-suited to these kinds of vines. The particular red which grows here the best is Cabernet Sauvignon, a plant which is sometimes difficult to grow, but which flourishes here. Other reds include the Pinotage, which is always a firm favourite in South Africa, Merlot, and Shiraz. There are also a number of whites being grown, such as the Chardonnay, the Sauvignon Blanc, and the Chenin Blanc. Wine producers in these areas particularly favour producing single-varietal wines which show off the depth of flavour and intensity of colour and tannins which are produced by growing the vines in the fertile soils of the Stellenbosch. Thanks to the Mediterranean-like weather which is available in the district, these vines are able to flourish in an environment similar to their origins in France, Portugal, and other European countries.
The other reason that Stellenbosch is so important to wine production in South Africa is its University, which offers considerable contributions to the South African wine industry, including plenty of research on different methods of viticulture, and by offering degrees in wine growing and wine making. Many of South Africa’s top winemakers have graduated from this university, prior to spending time in Old World countries, learning traditional methods of wine production. The Stellenbosch University, by producing so many graduates who go on to make important wines, has established itself as a leader and trendsetter in the South African wine industry.