South African Wine Regions
South Africa has been a wine growing country for hundreds of years, but for many years wine makers from one area could used grapes from anywhere else in the country. This often meant that a particular wine-making style from one location was copied by other areas, and no distinction was made. Like other wine-growing nations, South Africa eventually decided to move on this issue, and since 1973 the regions where wine is grown have been divided into different regions. The legislation behind this is the Wine of Origin program which strictly regulates the division of South Africa’s wine-growing areas in to named wine regions, defines them, and dictates what can be placed upon the labels. The Wine of Origin labelling is essentially there to protect the wine, and the producers who make it.
The intention of creating the Wine of Origin legislation was not only to protect a particular type of crop, which could not really be done in a country where wine was imported, but it was also there to protect specific estate’s cultivars or end production. Some vineyards have been very successful in growing difficult plants such as the Pinot Noir, and it would be very difficult for them if another region were to make a blend which claimed to be their product. Therefore, the Wine of Origin labels are there to protect the wine which comes from the region.
If a label on a bottle states that the wine has a specific Origin, then it must comply with the legislation that rules whether a wine really does come from an area. For example, when a region or district is named, plus the title WO, this establishes that all the grapes used to make the wine come from a single area, such as a local ward or the Region.
In the original terms of the legislation, wine could not be given the WO seal unless all of the grapes used in the wine had come from a single estate. However, in 2004 this was altered to allow ‘estate wine’ which is produced in vineyards owned by the same estate. This allows wine growers to brand their wines, to give them a distinctive name unique to that wine producer, but only those estates which have been certified are allowed to do this.
For the most part, Wine of Origin labels refer to the areas of origin, divided into Regions, Districts and Wards. A Region is a larger area of territory which is usually named after a significant point in the district (such as Breede River Valley, or Olifant’s River). The regional area can stretch for many hundreds of miles, for example following a river from mountain source to the mouth at the ocean. Districts are a smaller area which are usually marked out by a similarity in soil, climate and environment, and are usually marked out by significant geographical boundaries. A ward is also measured for similarity of soil and climate, although the definitions are much stricter than for a district. The ward area usually produces wines which share a definitive taste or character.