Travels in Wine

South Africa

Jo Locke MW reports back on her recent visits and paints a picture of a dynamic country that thrives on combining its tradition with vibrant modernity.

Kanonkop estate entrance
The eponymous canon at the entrance to the Kanonkop estate

Returning to the Cape over the past 18 months has been a joy, and I have found my enthusiasm undimmed by absence. The wines here are the fruits of my two most recent visits, shortlisted from the wealth of opportunity that South Africa presents to any wine buyer. The autumn of 2022 saw the first Cape Wine (South Africa’s international wine show) for four years and the buzz was palpable, from the energy and confidence of the producers in the room, to the excitement shared among the international visitors who had returned in droves.

My visit this spring was a little earlier, and longer, than usual, catching the end of the 2023 harvest, hearing the latest news from the horse’s mouth, and visiting as many producers as could be squeezed in, including some for the first time. I could have stayed three months and still not done it justice! Filling specific gaps in the range is always a priority, but mostly I prefer to visit with an open mind, in the spirit of discovery. I hope you will find plenty of interest and variety here as a result, delivered via some unmissable old favourites and exceptional new finds. There is value at all levels, not least in South Africa’s rich heritage of old vineyards, now strengthened by its old-vine certification scheme, the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

Looking back: the legacy of old vines

‘Staying Alive’ Riesling  winemakers
‘Staying Alive’ Riesling winemakers Roelof Lotriet, Christoph Hammel and Nongcebo Langa

The Cape is the first wine producing region to establish an old-vine certification scheme. Managed by The Old Vine Project it certifies vines which are at least 35 years old, and wines qualify for the Certified Heritage Vineyards seal which carries the date of planting. Jancis Robinson MW describes how it aims to ‘…allow grape prices to rise and become sufficiently attractive to farmers that they will not be tempted to pull out the older, less productive vines that may well make some of the finest wine.’ The Old Road Wine Co’s superlative semillon, Delheim’s noble late harvest riesling, or Kaapzicht’s Kliprug chenin are fine examples.

These wines command higher prices, but there are many more that benefit from the extra concentration, character, and often quality that comes naturally from older vines. Even our Society’s Chenin includes the fruit of vines over thirty years old.

Looking forward: a taste of the future

Daniel and Carin Steytler, the fourth generation of the family to run the Kaapzicht winery
Daniel and Carin Steytler, the fourth generation of the family to run the Kaapzicht winery

Much has been made of the new wave of South African winemakers, the movers and shakers in the Cape wine industry who have been pushing boundaries since Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom. Many of the original new wave are now household names – Chris Alheit, Sebastian Beaumont, Miles Mossop, Duncan Savage – and they’re joined by the latest waves of highly qualified, well-travelled, creative and exacting winemakers who make South Africa the most dynamic of wine producers. Their wines feature both in our Explore section, with grapes, styles and techniques off-the-beaten-track, and in the Fine Wine section, sitting rightly alongside their longer established peers.

Ntsiki Biyela
Ntsiki Biyela – founder and winemaker of Aslina, and a pioneering black female winemaker in South Africa

Try Ntsiki Biyela’s Wine Champion cabernet or Skin Contact chenin. Or compare and contrast two Stellenbosch cinsaults from Alex Milner and Lukas van Loggerenberg, or white blends from Minimalist and Thistle & Weed. Just be prepared to get the new-wave bug.

South African wines

Shop South African wines
Jo Locke MW

Society Buyer

Jo Locke MW

Joanna joined The Society in 2004. Her buying responsibilities include Alsace, Loire, South Africa and Portugal, including Port and Madeira.

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