Do We Have “Great” Vintages in South Africa?

We often hear of the “great” vintages of French wines. Connoisseurs say things like: “Ah yes, of course, ’87 was a great year.” Do we have great vintages and less-great vintages in South Africa?

Yes, we do, but the difference is not as noticeable as it is in Europe. The quality of the grapes depends on many factors such as the rainfall, amount of sunshine and wind, and when they occurred. As a general rule, too much rain and too little sunshine during the summer, when the grapes are ripening, results in low sugar content and high acidity in the grapes. Hot dry summers can result in grapes ripening too fast and producing too much sugar, and therefore very high alcohol levels.

Also, too much rain at the wrong time can lead to large berries with little intensity of flavour, resulting in thin, watery wines.

We are lucky in the Cape, however, because the climate varies so widely from region to region. A hot, dry summer in Robertson may not mean a hot dry summer in Hermanus, for example, or up in Vredendal. For this reason, one area may experience a great vintage while another may have an average one. We’re pretty certain to get great wines from at least one wine region in the Cape every year.