In South Africa viticulture mainly takes place at a latitude of 34° south in an area with a mild Mediterranean climate. The Western Cape is cooler than its position might suggest, with conditions ideal for a wide range of noble varieties.
Constantia is on the eastern flank of Cape Peninsula in the coastal zone. The temperate climate in the area features warm summers cooled by south-easterly sea breezes and cool winters with very little or no frost.
With its ancient soils, South Africa is considered to be the cradle of mankind. The impressive Cape mountain ranges form a dramatic backdrop to one of the most beautiful wine producing areas in the world. The vineyards lie on the valley sides and floors, benefiting from the many different meso-climates offered by the mountainous terrain and diverse terroir. The constant interaction between rugged peaks, multi-directional valley slopes and the proximity of two mighty oceans – in particular the Atlantic, chilled by the icy Benguela current which flows northwards up the west coast of Africa from Antarctica – moderate the summer warmth. Cooling breezes blow in from the sea during the day, fog and moisture-laden breezes are prevalent at night. Adequate sunshine plays an important role too. This diversity of topography and meso-climatic conditions result in wines filled with character and complexity.
Viticulture involves practices such as soil preparation, growing and planting of grape varieties, trellising and pruning of vines and ensuring vines remain disease free.The variety of grape chosen, the soil, climate and winemaking techniques are the main factors in determining the quality and character of a wine.
The choice of cultivar depends on the soil quality, climate, the location of the vineyard and the kind of wine desired. An important aspect is the balance between leaves and exposure to sunlight to determine the quality of the harvest. When there are not enough functioning leaves to provide sufficient shade for the grapes, the quality will be lower. Bigger yield cultivars are generally Pinotage and Shiraz. The climate influences the taste of the wine.
A vine yields its first crop after three years and is fully productive after five years. The average lifespan of a vine is between 15 and 30 years and in South Africa vines are generally replaced after 25 years although vines as old as 100 years can still be found in production. The age at which a vine is replaced is dependent on how heavily it is, the yield and the location of the vineyard.
The vine is a remarkable plant lending it to selection, propagation and grafting factors which makes it possible to continuously improve plant and quality. Although most vine varieties cultivated in South Africa were originally imported but six local crossings have been released to date. The best known of these will be Pinotage, a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Hermitage (Cinsaut), which is cultivated on a fairly large scale.
Some of the oldest grape varieties date back to ancient times and were developed from wild vines. The original wild vine belonging to the genus Vitis family and its generally accepted that it was first cultivated in Asia Minor, south of the Caspian and Black seas. All South African grape varieties were originally imported from Europe and belong to the species Vitris Vinifera. The European vine’s roots are unfortunately susceptible to an insect disease known as phylloxera. In aid to avoid this South Africa has grafted vines onto American rootstock which seems largely resistant to phylloxera.