In keeping with the spirit of renewal in the South African wine industry, in recent years over 40% of the vineyards have been replanted as the industry has realigned its product to compete globally, moving from volume production to noble cultivars and quality wines. South African vineyards have been dominated by white grape varieties but the trend now is towards a more market-driven balance between white and red.
Some of our oldest grape varieties (also called cultivars) date back to ancient times and were developed from wild vines. The original wild vine belongs to the genus Vitis and it is generally accepted that it was cultivated for the first time in Asia Minor, south of the Caspian and Black seas.
All the wine grape varieties cultivated in South Africa, which were originally imported from Europe, belong to the species Vitis vinifera. Unfortunately the roots of European vines are susceptible to an insect disease called phylloxera and, in order to avoid it, they are often grafted onto American rootstock which is largely resistant to the insect.
A vine yields its first crop after three years and is fully productive after five. On average, the South African vineyard is replaced after 25 years but this depends on factors such as the area in which it is situated and how heavily it has yielded. Generally, its lifespan may be anything between 15 and 30 years although vines as old as 100 years still in production can be found.
South African wine
The vine is a remarkable plant which lends itself to selection, propagation and grafting factors which make possible a continuous improvement in both plant and quality. Although most of the vine varieties cultivated here today were originally imported, up to now six local crossings have been released. The best known of these is a red variety, Pinotage, a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Hermitage (Cinsaut), which is cultivated locally on a fairly large scale.