Getting fully regionalised

There’s a new name you might be seeing on wine labels from the 2011 harvest: Cape South Coast. It’s a significant addition to the Wine of Origin system – although, curiously, the authorities don’t seem to have bothered to tell anyone about it, and it’s not reflected in the 2011 edition of Platter, which is usually very up-to-date. I became aware of the change thanks to Waterford winemaker Francois Haasbroek – who’s one of the more alert people in the industry (his acute awareness partly prompted, no doubt, by his Master of Wine studies).

Cape South Coast is a new region within the WO system, joining the existing regions – Coastal, Breede River Valley, Klein Karoo and Olifants River (and the strange little concept of Boberg for fortified wines only). As the map shows, it stretches from where Elgin reaches the coastline in the west, to Plettenberg Bay in the East.

On its way, the new region steals the district of Swellendam from the Breede River Valley, which is sensible as the area towards the coast is obviously much different from the inland areas (Swellendam doesn’t have much in the way of vineyards anyway – the most notable are those producing David Trafford’s Sijnn, at the mouth of the Breede.)

The other districts Cape South Coast includes are Overberg (including the Elgin ward), Walker Bay (most importantly, the Hemel-en-Aarde wards and Bot River) and Cape Agulhas. Plus two isolated wards – Herbertsdale (on the ocean rather than the Karoo side of the Swartberg mountains, where the only winery, I think, is Jakkalsvlei) and Stilbaai East (which is a brand new ward, and I’ve no idea at all what happens in it).

The point is, really, that all the above districts and wards are now nested within a region. Previously we had the absurd anomaly that Tulbagh was in the Coastal Region, despite being nearly as far as a wineland can get from the sea, while those southern coastal regions were not – were not in any regiona at all, in fact. Blends between them (and there are, for example, some not unimportant blends involving Elgin and Hemel-en-Aarde fruit) could only take the large “Geographical Unit” of the Western Cape. Now such a blend can invoke a nice-sounding (and sufficiently meaningful) region: Cape South Coast. How much the new region will be used, I’m not at all sure – not as much as WO Coastal, certainly.

Whether the authorities will, in time, be able to pull Tulbagh out of the existing Coastal Region, where it patently does not belong, is another question. Let’s hope so, for the sake of meaningful areas. But the latest refinement of the Wine of Origin map does make the system more … systematic. The biggest significant units are the regions, which contain districts, which contain wards. Sometimes, in this system of nested dolls, intervening dolls are missing and a few wards rattle around within regions rather than within districts. But now, for the first time, there are regions which cover all the Western Cape winelands.

You can find larger maps – with separate ones showing regions, districts and wards – on the Sawis website, here.

Did you want to know all that? I hope so. Anyway, don’t say we don’t keep you well informed! Incidentally, I noticed something interesting today in a few-months-old article by the eminent American wine-critic Mike Steinberger, on the Slate website, where he points to the internet’s leading specialist regional wine-sites. The single link he gives for a “great niche site” for South African wine is, of course, Grape.

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