South Africa’s Wine Wards
The Wine Wards of South Africa are the smallest areas that the wine-growing landscape is divided into, and they denote areas which are particularly important to the growing of grapes in the area. There are only a few wards in the whole of the Western Cape region, because these are areas of particular significance, rather like designating a spot of national importance. Because most wine-growing farms have been covered by the designation of wine districts, it is not necessary to split most up further into wards. However, in some areas, the wine growing is of such distinction or character that the area is named as a ward.
The splitting up of the wine-growing land of South Africa into regions, districts and wards began in 1973, and was called Wine of Origin Labelling. This legislation was modelled on a French system which was based on traditional labelling, but the government of South Africa were trying to force an unnatural system upon a place where it had never been used, and this caused some distortion in the neatness of their plan. The Wine of Origin labels were meant to denote that a bottle of wine had been created entirely from one location, which caused many small wine growers to suffer as their business had relied upon selling to others. However, the main interest of the WO legislation was to create an order where labelling was regulated, without dictating any other area of wine farming life.
Wards are the smallest area, and in order to be named, must have a distinguishing feature which is not available in other locations. For example, the soil must be of a particular quality which is not known in other places, or the wine produced must be completely different from similar wines of the same grape mix. The requirements on the label of Ward are the reason why there are so few, but because of the particular disorder with which the terms were applied, it is possible to get wards lying outside of districts or regions, the larger areas that the wine-growing area was split into.
If the area is designated a ward, then the wine farms inside it must be of particular significance. Being able to describe your farm as a ward does not confer any particular status on the wine producer, although it can offer the drinker an idea of the tastes and aromas he can expect from the bottle of wine, although without a great deal of knowledge it may be hard to pinpoint the particular location that a bottle of wine comes from.
The main purpose of wards appears to be as a descriptive term on labels that clearly shows that the wine estate is one of distinction, and that the wine produced deserves to be taken seriously. Wine experts, for one, may be able to tell things about a bottle of wine before a sip of liquid has been taken, simply by understanding the features of the ward where the wine has been produced.