Which ten countries produce the most wine in the world? It sounds easy enough, but after naming the top contenders (France, Italy, Spain, United States), it starts to get tricky. While France and Italy are constant contenders for the first place crown, you may be surprised to find out who else is on the list.
For example, according to the latest statistics put out by the OIV (International Organization of Wine and Vine), China is currently ranking number 9 in the world (Really? What don’t you do, China?) And Chile took a recent jump from ninth place to sixth.
Over the last several years, the polls have stayed relatively consistent with its heavy-weight countries, and smack dab in the middle, peacefully holding onto its eighth spot, is South Africa.
Somewhere over the Rainbow
There may be no better way to describe South Africa other than diverse. It has been referred to as the Rainbow nation due to all the vast cultures and languages (eleven to be exact) that have settled and made it home. Not to mention the varied animal population. If Elephants, Lions, and Zebras aren’t your thing, you’ve got the Great White Shark, the Crocodile, and the Ostrich!
Fun Fact: right off the famous Route 62 Wine Trail is Oudtshoorn is the Karoo, where you can ride an Ostrich. And if you happen to travel south to Boulder’s Beach in Simon’s Town, you can chill with the African Penguins as they sunbathe (get it? Chill? Because they’re penguins! Stop, my puns are funny.)
The climate, too, is diverse. Summer usually brings sunny and dry days with brief afternoon thunderstorms, while winter can get cooler in the evenings, with even a potential of frost. But amidst all this diversity lies vast viniculture that produces some quality wines.
The diversity of this land continues amongst its wine trails. In recent years more wineries are popping up in the Northern and Eastern Cape and even in the Kwazulu-Natal province. However, the majority of the country’s wine production comes from the Western Province. Here you’ll find a trail to fit every traveler. Take a look at just a small selection of what you can find:
Conveniently located just outside Cape Town, Constantia is known for its award-winning estates and beautiful vineyards. Constantia is also the oldest area in the region, with its wine production dating all the way back to the 1680s. It was this region that produced Constantia dessert wines, which first gained popularity throughout Europe in the 18th century.
But what is it about this valley that produces such historic wine? Thanks to the cool temperatures brought on by the False Bay, Constantia Valley is best known for its white wines, particularly Sauvignon Blanc. These grapes are also grown on east-facing slopes, with an average of 1000mm of rain per year.
Breedekloof is the youngest wine route in the country, supporting a bustling wine industry that includes both boutique cellars and larger wineries. Wineries in this region initially produced sweet wines in bulk, though they’ve since branched out into a more comprehensive array of red and dry white wines.
Breedekloof’s constantly changing climate creates particularly interesting wines. Its warm days are mediated by the afternoon shadows cast by the Slanghoek mountains, while the winding Breede River produces a range of soil types throughout the valley. These constantly changing factors create high-quality Chenin Blanc wines, though the local dessert and fortified wines are also worth a try.
With its proximity to Cape Town and its northern suburbs, Durbanville is an easily accessible and beautiful wine valley that’s become a popular destination for fans of wine, views, and food.
Durbanville’s proximity to the ocean creates a cooler climate, where nighttime mists and chilled breezes are common. And, because of the uneven and rugged terrain, some grapes are grown at higher-than-average altitudes, with some growing up to 260m above sea level, meaning the local grapes take longer to ripen. Combined, these factors have created some high-quality Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots that have attracted wine fanatics to the region.
Related: How to Pack Wine Glasses
Surrounded by mountain ranges, Elgin is a secluded, cool-climate valley traditionally known for its apple and pear orchards. In fact, the valley is responsible for 60% of South Africa’s apple crops! Outside of its apples, however, Elgin has also recently made a name for itself through its excellent wines.
With temperatures rarely reaching over 30 C, Elgin’s climate creates an ideal temperature for high-quality vines with a lot of fruity character. The region’s wines are generally well-balanced, with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay as the region’s must-try wines.
Franschhoek (or “French Corner”) was first settled by French refugees fleeing persecution in the 1600s, and to this day, it still holds its characteristic French charm. Just outside the quaint city center lie some of the country’s top vineyards, which are further surrounded by mountains on three sides. The region also boasts a bustling culinary scene, even earning its nickname as the “culinary capital” of the Cape region.
Franschhoek is best known for its Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and sparkling wines. Between its history, food, and wines, Franschhoek is an ideal wine tour destination—it even hosts a hop-on/off wine tram tour through the region!
Worchester is located in the Breede River Valley and manages to produce about a quarter of the entire nation’s wine—not to mention the fact that it has the largest brandy distillery in the southern hemisphere! This booming wine industry was also home to the first Braille wine bottle, a project which sends its proceeds to the Institute for the Blind.
But what about Worcester allows it to produce such an enormous amount of wine? The valley is a warm region with fairly consistent temperatures thanks to the surrounding mountain ranges. This makes it particularly suited to sweet wines with higher alcohol levels, though the range in topography in Worcester produces a wide variety of wines. In particular, Worcester is known for its Shiraz, Pinotage, and Cabernet Sauvignon, in addition to its brandy.
Related: What is Terrier?
Established just after Cape Town, Stellenbosch is the second oldest settlement in South Africa. Together with Paarl, Worcester, Wellington, Tulbagh, and Franschhoek, it makes up part of the Cape Winelands—the scenic origin of some of South Africa’s greatest wines. Unlike the others, however, Stellenbosch was actually the first to create a wine route on its territory, and it continues to be one of the largest and most developed wine-producing regions in the nation.
Like many regions on this list, Stellenbosch’s grapes are grown in a variety of climates thanks to its many rolling hills. However, Stellenbosch also has one thing the other regions do not: granite. Stellenbosch’s granite and sandstone-based soils are said to create a unique mineral flavor in its wines. Stellenbosch is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Bordeaux, as well as being the birthplace of Pinotage.
Paarl is the largest city in the Cape Winelands, making it a perfect option for visitors interested in exploring both wine and local culture. In fact, Paarl Rock hosts the impressive Taal Monument—a 57m monument dedicated to the Afrikaans language.
When it comes to the wines, Paarl’s vineyards cover the lower, north-facing slopes of Paarl Rock, where the nutrient-poor soil creates stronger, higher-quality wines. The warmer climate and high rainfall also produce a wide range of grape varieties, though the region is most famous for its Shiraz.
Swartland is another great option for travelers who like to venture off the beaten path. Located about 40 miles north of Cape Town, Swartland is a large region that produces stunning views and unique wines. Though it isn’t quite as popular as the Cape Winelands, Swartland has a great wine route that explores both the region’s wines and its olives.
Thanks to its hot, dry climate, Swartland’s vines are forced to extend deep into the soil to reach water sources. This tends to create smaller yields with particularly concentrated grapes. The region’s wines are, therefore, particularly rich and fruity, and it’s best known for its Chenin Blanc, Pinotage, and Shiraz.
A favorite attraction is the Route 62 wine trail. It stretches from Cape Town all the way into the Eastern Cape and is home to a variety of adventures. It’s considered the longest trail in the world and boasts the perfect trip for travelers looking to meander along at their own pace. It contains over 70 wine farms as well as an awesome Brandy Route, Calitzdorp (the port capital of South Africa), and even the Green Mountain Eco Route.