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South Africa Gains New Appellation with a Familiar Name: Cape Town

Vintners say the Wine of Origin designation, which includes several existing regions, could help with international sales
Table Mountain is a stunning backdrop for the new Cape Town WO.
Photo by: Courtesy of De Grendel
Table Mountain is a stunning backdrop for the new Cape Town WO.

Emma Balter
Posted: August 1, 2017

South Africa's wine appellations are numerous, complex, and can be daunting to outsiders. The country has had a rigorously legislated Wine of Origin (WO) system in place since 1973. It organizes distinct wine-producing areas into larger regions, then districts, then wards within them. Now, some producers have an additional option—the new Cape Town WO—that they hope will appeal to international consumers without confusing them.

The South African Wine and Spirit Board approved the measure earlier this summer, affecting 30 wineries and around 6,800 acres in the Tygerberg and Cape Peninsula districts, which include the four wards of Constantia, Durbanville, Philadelphia and Hout Bay. At its farthest point, the viticultural area is 22 miles away from Cape Town's city center.

The Cape Town brand, proponents believe, will elevate these wine regions' visibility overseas. "We all know who each other are, and we all know each other's regions, but we actually have to go into the international market," said Angela Fourie, manager for the Durbanville wine route (a winery-funded council) and a leader in this initiative. "You need to hook onto something very strong."

Fourie said that a marketing arm of the WO will be launched later this year. Among other things, it will focus on the enotourism opportunities that can be bolstered by the newfound connection with South Africa's most visited city.

Both districts have a maritime climate, enjoying the cooling effects of the Atlantic Ocean and stunning views of the famed Table Mountain. "We didn't want to just do something for marketing purposes, it had to have a real story," said Albert Gerber, managing director of Durbanville Hills. He says that the winery will use the Cape Town WO on its labels and will promote this brand with a broader audience, but will refer to Durbanville's terroir in more specific marketing.

While there were no objections to the creation of the new WO, not all producers in the areas will use the name. Hans Astrom, partner and managing director of Klein Constantia, equates the situation to a vintner in Napa Valley labeling his or her wine "San Francisco." "Our view is that Constantia carries more weight than Cape Town," he explained. "We're one of the most historical farms in South Africa. It doesn't make sense for us."

Lars Maack of Buitenverwachting, also in Constantia, said the winery is still finalizing its approach. He may combine both the Constantia and Cape Town place names and market as such. "Constantia and its historic significance are too important to us and will not be removed from our labels," he told Wine Spectator via email.

Constantia certainly has the best name recognition of the areas within the Cape Town WO, but lesser-known areas could benefit from new labeling. Many producers predict that, within a winery's range, Cape Town will be used for some cuvées but not others. The new WO also allows for blends across the various wine regions. Riandri Visser, winemaker of Cape Point Vineyards, is "very happy" with the new appellation. Although the winery will continue to market its boutique range of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon wines as Cape Peninsula, they'll use Cape Town for a new project of theirs. They recently started managing a vineyard in Durbanville. A new blend will source fruit from both their Durbanville and Cape Peninsula vineyards, and will be labeled Cape Town.

Before, they would have had to name it Western Cape or Coastal Region, two much larger areas. (In South Africa, 100 percent of the fruit must be from the WO listed on the label.) Cape Point Vineyards' estate cuvées are known for being more European in style. The new wine, said Visser, will be "more fruit-forward and consumer friendly."

She does see a potential pitfall, however, if larger companies use the Cape Town WO to mass produce wines of lesser quality and export them overseas, ultimately harming the region's image. Overall, she remains optimistic. "I think that [if] we all work together as a wine industry, it can be very positive for the wines of South Africa," she said.

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