The developement of vineyard zonation and demarcation in South Africa

[English version below]

L’histoire de viticulture de l’Afrique du Sud embrasse 340 ans, et a commencé, à la province du Cap, où les colonisateurs hollandais ont planté les premières vignes. L’arrivée des Huguenots français en 1688 a avancé, le développement. Les vins de Constantia deviennent renommés, et ainsi ils sont les premiers “vins d’origine” de l’Afrique du Sud. Pendant l’occupation britannique de la province du Cap en 1806, la viticulture a développé, davantage, dû à l’inaccessibilité, de l’Europe et ses vins pendant cette période. On a plant, la plupart des vignobles à la région côtière du sud-ouest, aux environs de la province du Cap, et aux vallées limitrophes. Ces régions sont toujours productrices principales de vin. Vers 1850, les exportations de vin étaient très limitées, dû à la détérioration de la qualité de vin. Ce fait a résulté du manque de contrôle d’origine et de qualité. L’industrie a reconnu ce problème, ce qui mène à la fondation d’un système de contrôle de Vin d’Origine en 1973. Des experts techniques font la démarcation des secteurs de vin, en employant quatre catégories. Ces sont: (1) Régions, (2) Districts, (3) Circonscriptions (‘Wards’), et (4) Domaines. Faute d’assez de traditions, d’expérience et des données expérimentales (contrasté avec les pays européens de viticulture), la philosophie sud-africaine de démarcation embrasse l’identification des unités de terrain naturel, en employant des données techniques qui sont disponibles.

The 340 year old history of viticulture in South Africa started with the first planting of vines by the Commander of the first Dutch settlers at the Cape. Further expansion was encouraged by succeeding Governors and also stimulated by the arrival of the French Huguenots in 1688. Constantia wines became internationally famous and thus were the first ‘wines of origin’ from South Africa. After the British occupation of the Cape in 1806, viticulture was further stimulated due to the inaccessibility of Europe and its wines to Britain at that stage. Vineyards were mainly established in the south-western coastal zone around the Cape and in adjacent Inland River valleys were irrigation water was available. These areas, characterized by a Mediterranean climate, are still the main wine producing regions today. Towards 1850, wine exports reached an ail time low because of the deterioration in wine quality, mainly as result of the absence of control over origin and quality. This problem was realized by the industry and resulted in a Wine of Origin Control system since 1973. Demarcation of existing vineyards was, and still is, done by technical experts, using four categories, viz. (1) Regions, based on broad geographical features and administrative boundaries; (2) Districts, based on geographical and macro climatic features; (3) Wards, essentially based on uniform soil, climatic and ecological patterns; and (4) Estates, based on the concept of singular ownership of vineyards and wine being produced on the estate. To demarcate Wards, land type maps are used. Land types are a concept unique to South Africa and are defined as a class of land over which the macro climate, the terrain form and soil pattern each displays a marked uniformity. Land types differ from each other in terms of macro climate, terrain form or soil pattern, or combinations of these natural factors. Lacking sufficient tradition, experience and experimental information, compared to the old word wine countries, the philosophy behind demarcation in South Africa is to identify natural terrain units, using available technical information, and then allowing such units to develop and demonstrate particular wine styles and character, rather than demanding proof of uniqueness before demarcation is done.

Author: D. SAAYMAN

Dept. Of Soil Science, University of Stellenbosch, P/Bag X1, Matieland, 7602, RSA

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