South African Wine Districts
Since the Wine of Origin legislation was passed in 1973, the wine areas of South Africa have been divided into clearly defined areas. The majority of the wine-growing areas are close together, at the South West corner of the country, at the foot of the continent of Africa. This main centre for wine production is divided into Regions, Districts and Wards. There are four essential elements to the division of the land. Firstly, they are divided into the geographical location, such as the Western or the Eastern Cape, then into Regions, which are smaller unites within the Location, and are usually named after a significant landmark or town, for example the Breede River Valley. The Regions are then divided up into Districts, usually smaller areas focused around a central point, and usually with similarities in the wine produced. Lastly, some districts contain wards, which are specific areas producing wines of distinct character.
Some districts are so important to the wine production of the region that they have become synonymous with good quality wines. For example, the Cape Point wine district is at the heart of South Africa’s history of wine production, and was once a thriving location. When the Wine of Origin legislation was passed, many of the former wine farms dwindled, because most vineyards were reluctant to take the step into becoming a wine producer, which resulted in little being known about some wine-producing areas.
The most significant factor concerning the districts is that they have to be distinct from each other. For example, Stellenbosch is a prime wine district, and is home to rich red clay that is ideal for wine growers hoping to produce wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinotage. Paarl, also a district, is also very big on red wines, perhaps even more so than Stellenbosch, because the latter does make some good white wines too. Other districts, such as Robertson, are likely to become significant producers of white wine in South Africa. All of these districts are significant producers of a type of grape, and this is what leads them to be important enough to be considered a district.
The legislation laid down the qualities that an area must have in order to be considered as a district, including the vital wine-making component, ‘Terroir‘. This term is used to describe the ability of ground to be absorbed into the grape, so that it can be tasted in the wine. A good terroir is one which provides distinct mineral, shale or earth tastes to the wine, so for example the decomposed granite of the Stellenbosch era is particularly prized.
Due to the importance of the grape quality, it is possible for districts to be found in areas which are not bound by regions, and in fact the newer the wine farm, the more likely it is to be encroaching on land which is not covered by the 1973 plans. If a farm starts to produce particularly charismatic wine, with distinctive flavours resulting from the Terroir, then the official Wine and Spirits Board will consider that area to be a district.