The Western Cape Feature
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South African Wine
The South African wine industry is booming. Buried by sanctions during apartheid, South African wines were largely unknown internationally. But today there's enormous interest in South African reds and whites. While South Africa has a reputation for delivering good quality at the bottom end of the market, more and more ultra-premium wines are emerging. Good-quality wines at varied prices are readily available—even in supermarkets.
Currently white wine production outstrips red, but the quality continually improves for both, and they regularly win international awards. Particularly notable is Pinotage, South Africa's own grape variety, a cross between pinot noir and Cinsaut (formerly Hermitage). Chenin blanc is the country's most widely planted variety and is used in everything from blends to bubbly (known in South Africa as Méthode Cap Classique).
The industry is transforming itself slowly. The illegal dop (drink) or tot system, in which farmers pay some of laborers' wages in wine, is finally on its way out, and there's a concerted effort among producers to uplift their laborers' quality of life. Many international companies refuse to import wine from farms that don't secure their workers' rights, and many farms are working at black empowerment. Tukulu, Riebeek Cellars, Thandi Wines, and Ses'Fikile (which translated means "we have arrived"), M'hudi, and Freedom Road are just some of the pioneers. Tragically, South Africa has one of the highest incidences of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), a legacy left over from the dop system.
If you're serious about wine, arm yourself with John Platter's Wine Guide or Wine magazine, featuring local wineries. For an in-depth read and fantastic photos, pick up Wines and Vineyards of South Africa by Wendy Torein or New World of Wine from the Cape of Good Hope: The Definitive Guide to the South African Wine Industry by Phyllis Hands, David Hughes, and Keith Phillips.
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