Wine Regions in South Africa and Israel

Grapes Soil Climate Background

 

We currently feature wines from both South Africa and Israel. We will start by introducing you to the South African regions involved. For those who are more interested in reading about the Israeli wines, click here to directly jump to the relevant information.

South Africa

South Africa This page cannot give you an overview of all the different wine regions in South Africa, as there are simply too many geographical pockets to cover. We intend to give you an overview of the regions which wines we sell. We hope you learn something about the soil, climate and the grapes which grow there. It is important to note that many winemakers however do not only make their wines using grapes they themselves grow. Many have contracting farmers from other regions supplying them with grapes. Due to this a winemaker can, for instance, offer a Sauvignon Blanc tasting completely different to another Sauvignon Blanc from the same winemaker and of the same vintage. We at Weinunikate focus on smaller wineries whose wines are not normally available in European or even South African supermarkets. We picked younger wineries with a fresh, new approach and all offering spectacular value for money. We hope our clients understand the labour involved in winemaking and that one normally gets what one pays for in the wine world. Certainly, the market does also feature overpriced wines, but those are rather the exception than the rule. In fact, it is more common in this industry to sell wine at cutthroat prices which does not make sustainable farming possible. Our wish is to offer excellent wines from South Africa which most people can easily afford, where sustainable farming is practised, where nature is preserved, where farmers can break even and where labourers are treated fairly.

The wine regions we feature

Elgin 34°08′55″S  19°02′34″E

Elgin is an area formally known for traditionally growing fruits, especially apples. Due to excellent conditions for winemaking, more and more winemakers are developing more viticultural land. The area has a cool climate with lots of sunlight, high rainfalls and lots of winds. According to The Essential Guide to South African Wines , Elgin receives more sunlight hours during summer than Constantia, yet the altitude and prevailing southerly winds greatly influence the temperature which is an average of only 19,7°C in February, the hottest month of the year.¹

Geologically speaking the soils are mostly shale. There are some small parts which are mostly sandstone. The soils are acidic and need the addition of lime. Due to the high rainfalls it is normally not necessary to irrigate. All this taking into consideration, the area is great for the production of: White Wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sémillon
Red Wines: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot ¹Swart, E., Smit, I.:The Essential Guide to South African Wines, Second Edition, 2009, Cheviot Publishing cc, South Africa, Page 120

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Robertson 33°48′″ S 19°53′ 0″ E

Robertson lies northeast of Cape Town on the worlds′ longest wine route, the famous Route 62.Since the end of Apartheid, the number of wine cellars has more than doubled in this area. Though this is a relavitely warm area with low rainfalls, it lies less than 100 kilometres from the ocean. Southeasterly winds regularly carry moist air into the valley from the ocean which cools the vineyards. The difference between day time and night time temperatures is drastic. The soils can be sandy, alluvial or chalky.¹

The Breede River flows through the town of Robertson and provides this hot area with much needed water. The valley lies at the foot of barren mountain slopes and is beautiful. People call it the Valley of Wine and Roses. Vineyards, fruit orchards, roses and bougainvillea speckle the landscape making the surrounding mountains, the Langeberg appear almost barren. Hiking in the nature reserves surrounding Robertson is a popular sport. Some of the trails are only suitable for experienced hikers as they are long and difficult. There are, however, hiking trails which are suitable for the whole family so check with tourist information should you be interested.The terroir is ideal for the production of:

 

White Wines: Chenin Blanc, Colombar, Muscat d′ Alexandrie, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
Red Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Pinotage, Cinsaut²

¹Swart, E., Smit, I.:The Essential Guide to South African Wines, Second Edition, 2009, Cheviot Publishing cc, South Africa, Page 170
²Swart, E., Smit, I.:The Essential Guide to South African Wines, Second Edition, 2009, Cheviot Publishing cc, South Africa, Page 170

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The Breede River

Stellenbosch 33°56′S  18°52′O

The first settlers to arrive in South Africa were Dutch people sent by the Dutch East India Company to set up a refreshment station for the ships travelling along the Cape Sea Route. They arrived in 1652 under the command of Jan van Riebeeck, the colonial administrator at the time. Van Riebeeck took vines amongst other things along on their mission and had the first cultivars planted in February 1659. Van Riebeeck kept a diary in which this was noted. Only 27 years later, in 1679, the Dutch governor Simon van der Stel founded the town of Stellenbosch which he named after himself.


In Europe at about this time, things were changing for the worse for Protestant people in France. On account of the Edict of Fontaineblea act introduced by Louis XIV, Protestantism became illegal in France, which sent about 400 000 French Hugenots fleeing from their home country.¹ Many of them left for Great Britain, the United States, Prussia, Holland and South Africa. The Hugenots were very skilled and educated people who took their knowledge, and their vines, with them wherever they went. Their skills included winemaking. Some of those who fled to South Africa settled in Stellenbosch as early as 1690, many of them settled in Franschhoek.² These settlers weren't the only winemakers in the area though. Free black slaves who were already granted plots of land in Stellenbosch in 1683 were amongst the first to farm wine in the area.³


Stellenbosch has the oldest wine route of South Africa, many of these wineries are open to visitors. It lies in a valley at about 300 metres above sea level. Many of the vines were planted on the slopes of the surrounding mountains and hills. Though it can get pretty hot in summer, the town lies only 25 km from the ocean meaning the vines are cooled by the cool air blown in from False Bay by the southeasterly wind. This helps the vines to stay healthy as humidity is lowered.


The soils mainly consists of granite though there are a large number of pockets. The soil is often high in clay, the deeper layers are acidic. Draingage is good which makes dryland viticulture possible.4 Dryland viticulture means that the grapes do not need that much irrigation if at all. Vines which do not need a lot of irrigation yield smaller bunches with thicker skins which contain more flavour. These grapes are therefore ideal for making premium wines. All this taking into consideration, the area is great for the production of:

White Wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Sémillion and Chenin Blanc
Red Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc and Pinotage

¹Morison, Samuel Eliot (1972). The Oxford History of the American People. New York City: Mentor. p. 220
² Botha, Colin Graham (1921). The French refugees at the Cape. Cape Times Limited. p. 155
³ www.stellenboschheritage.co.za, p.3
4Swart, E., Smit, I.:The Essential Guide to South African Wines, Second Edition, 2009, Cheviot Publishing cc, South Africa, Page 60

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Town of Stellenbosch, typical Cape Dutch architecture

Tulbach 33°17′6″S  19°8′16″E

The whole Tulbach region has been inhabited for thousands of years with the first inhabitants being the Khoi and the San people of South Africa. The town of Tulbach was founded much later by Dutch and French Huguenot settlers at the end of the 18th century. The town lies in a basin surrounded by the Saronsberg and Obiqua Mountain in the West, the Winterhoek mountain in the north and the Witsenberg in the east. It's inhabitants can enjoy a warm mediterranean climate which is also ideal for winemaking, though winemakers in this area cannot make do without irrigation. The natural shade of the mountains plus the cool air from the night which get trapped by the mountains, cool the vineyards on the slopes and floor and enable quality winemaking. The terroir is extremely versatile providing excellent opportunities for current and future winemakers who want to move to this area. The boulder beds of the Kleinberg River resemble the Rhône Valley in France and the soils on the foothills are derived from shale and sandstone ¹

The following varieties are cultivated in the area:

White Wines: Chenin Blanc, Colombar, Muscat d´Alexandrie, Chardonnay
Red Wines: Cinsaut, Shiraz, Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Pinotage

¹Swart, E., Smit, I.:The Essential Guide to South African Wines, second edition, 2009, Cheviot Publishing cc, South Africa, Page 167

 

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Wellington 33°38′0″S  18°59′0″E

Wellington lies just 10 km north of Paarl and can be considered the centre of vine production for the South African market. This is a warm, dry area in which not only wine and vines are grown, but also fruit and brandy. Due to the high daytime temperatures, farms do not make do without additional irrigation. Welling lies at 200 metres altitude at the foot of the Groenberg and next to the Kromme Rivier. At night cold air from the mountain cools the vines enabling the production of quality wines despite the relative high daytime temperatures. Soils are shale-based or sandstone and granite. ¹ After moving away from Chenin Blanc production, one finds all sorts of varietals like Mourvèdre, Grenache, Petit Verdot, Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in this area today.²


The following varieties are cultivated in the area:

White Wines: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Sémillon
Red Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Pinotage

¹Swart, E., Smit, I.:The Essential Guide to South African Wines, second edition, 2009, Cheviot Publishing cc, South Africa, Page 157
²Swart, E., Smit, I.:The Essential Guide to South African Wines, second edition, 2009, Cheviot Publishing cc, South Africa, Page 157
wellington

Israel

 

Wines From Israel, an Introduction to an Ancient Tradition

I still remember my first bottle of wine from Israel like it was yesterday. It was a wine from Golan Heights Winery and a present from friends who visited Israel. So in a way, yes, I acknowledged the fact that Israelis do make wine, but thought it to be a relatively new development and didn't expect to find more than one or two wines from Israel on the market. It was only much later that we discovered just how many different wine making areas there were in Israel and how far back the tradition goes. In short, we thankfully educated ourselves, for this country produces some of the best wines we have ever tried. The following is our attempt at passing on our bit of knowledge which we learned by attending a seminar on Israeli wines.

When did winemaking start in Israel?

Israel is a great place for archaeologists and historians. Wine making equipment has been found at several archaeological sites and dates back to thousands of years. The oldest Israeli wine press found to this day is 6500 years old. In ancient times, wine was sometimes diluted with water and drunk that way. Wine plays an important role in Judaism too, in the Bible the consumption of alcohol is sometimes commanded for religious rituals. For instance, during the sacred weekly Shabbat ritual, wine is blessed and thus sanctified by performing the Kiddush ceremony. During this ceremony, a ritual kiddish cup is filled to the rim with kosher wine or grape juice and drunk.

Modern winemaking

Some people associate Israeli wines with sweet, heavy wines used for religious purposes. This might have been the case up to the eighties, but modern Israeli wines are very different. Thanks to a modern approach and technological improvements, a wine revolution took place then. Golan Heights Winery, the wine I mentioned earlier, was founded in 1983. In 1882 already, Baron Rothschild founded Carmel, the first winery documented in modern times was founded by a rabbi in 1848. Despite the warm climate, Isreali wines are spicy and not sweet. Flattering and marmalade notes which are typical of warmer-climate regions do not describe Israeli wines. This is due to the fact that the best vineyards are located in the mountains at altitudes higher than 800 metres. All in all, the cool mountain air, quality grape varietals and the focus on quality instead of quantity resulted in the production of high-quality wines. In the whole of Israel, only 5000 hectares is designated to winemaking. There are more than 200 wineries in Israel of which 35 are commercial wineries. The majority are boutique- and garagistes wineries.

Soil and Climate

Israel is a country the size of New Jersey, Wales or the federal state of Hessen in Germany. Depending on the winemaking area, the climate and soil differs. Wine is cultivated in the north, the centre and in the south of the country.

The centre has the biggest variety of different vineyards as well as terroir. Jerusalem lies in the heart of this region, which predestinated it for the production of the sweet, lower-quality wines earlier mentioned and which typically get used for religous purposes. The potential for making high-quality wines in this part of Israel is high though, for example in the mountains of Jerusalem.

The terroir in the north is excellent for cultivating high-quality wines, not only due to the cool climate but also due to the terroir. It is rich in iron and limey.

In the south lies the Negev desert at 300 metres in altitude. It is still a relatively new wine region. At night cool air sweeps through the desert, cooling off the earth and enabling the vines to regain their strength. Artificial irregation is used as water is very scares in this region. The heat has the advantage that fungi doesn't pose a problem to the vines. Some of the most individualistic wines come from this region.

The vineyards in all these regions make up a combined total of 5000 hectares with an average harvest of about 45 000 tonnes of grapes.

Let's take a look at the different regions:

The North

(The Golan Heights, Upper- and Lower Galilee, Carmel)

The terrain in this region is mostly rocky and mountainous with high rainfall and relatively low temperatures. Soils are mostly volcanic, gravelly, heavy and well-drained.¹

The Centre

( The Judean Plains, Jerusalem Mountains, Judean Mountains)

The coastal plains lie at 100 - 200 metres above sea level, the Jerusalem Mountains at 300 - 700 metres and the Judean Mountains at 500 - 900 metres in altitude, so depending on where you are, the climate is going to be different. Up in the Judean Mountains, winters are cold with snow falls, in summer the days are warm and the nights cool. Temperatures in the Judean Plains are mild. Similar to the Judean Mountains, summer evenings in the Jerusalem Mountains are cool and the days warm. Soils in the centre can be limey, loamy or red clay and stoney.

The South

(The Negev)

The Negev is a very dry, arid area and comprises almost half of Israel's land area. Vineyards are planted in the Negev Hills which are situated at 600 metres above sea level. Due to this, temperatures vary greatly from night to day. The soils are loamy and sandy. It gets very hot in summer.Advanced computer-regulated drip irrigation systems makes wine growing possible on these dry yet fertile soils.¹ ²

¹A Guide to Israel's Wine Regions
²Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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Unbenannt Unbenannt Photographer:
Amit Geron
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Unbenannt Photographer:
Rina Nagila
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