Move over, Sauvignon and Cabernet - Vermentino, Marselan and Macabeu are the new names in SA wine

Business Insider SA
Vredendal farmer Gideon van Zyl shows vine removals at his drought-hit farm in January. Farmers in the area are restricted to 14% of their normal water use, resulting in many having to remove vineyards or let me them die. (Gallo Images)

Western Cape farmers are set to plant up to 600 hectares of drought-resistant vines, which will bring various never-before-seen cultivars to the South African market.

Wanda Augustyn from VinPro, a non-profit company which represents 3 500 South African wine producers, says lower yields due to drought conditions have already started to place a strain on the industry. In 2017 alone, farmers saw 30% less rainfall compared to previous years. 

"A decline of 1% in the 2018 harvest will translate into an R50 million decline in income for the producer," Augustyn told Business Insider South Africa. 

Vinpro is, therefore, assisting farmers to implement water-saving farming techniques and experiment with new crops, she says. Introducing new imported cultivars may also expand the country's offering to global markets. 

Nico Spreeth from Vititec, a grapevine nursery in Paarl, gave us a rundown of the drought-resistant set to hit the South African market. 


With a similar taste  to Cabernet Sauvignon, this red wine is "well structured (in terms of acidity and alcohol), with good colour and tannins," Spreeth says. While there is less than a hectare of the vines currently in SA, production is set to increase to 50 hectares in the near future. "It has very good complex and persistent flavours," Spreeth adds. 


Originally from the Nemea region in Greece, this red wine is well adapted to warm areas. "It is generally planted in dry, infertile soil," Spreeth explains. He says the grapes are sometimes blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and produces a "high level of fruitiness". It is similar to Merlot, but has characteristics which still needs to be tested on the Western Cape wine menu, Spreeth says. "It is certainly similar in its range of stylistic expression and blending potential."


"This variety is often described as Greece's best white wine grape," Spreeth says. "It is one of these rare white grape varieties that can grow in hot and dry climatic conditions, while at the same keeping the high alcohol in perfect balance with its crisp acidity." 80 hectares of the vines are planned for South Africa. "Assyrtiko is a rare, classy white grape, possibly some of the greatest varieties found in the Mediterranean basin," Spreeth adds. "It offers (taste) sensations that are well away from the average, 'commercially appealing' dry white."


Originally from Italy, this vine produces a "pleasant and pale coloured" white wine. It also offers an "interesting aromatic richness", Spreeth says. Currently only planted on a total of two hectares in Somerset West and Paarl, production is set to increase to a hundred hectares in the near future. "It performs well in warm areas with dry, less fertile soils," Spreeth adds. 


"A complex, very colourful, very fragrant red wine, balanced with lots of body and a good length and ability to age," Spreeth says. The wine is a relatively new entry to the South African market. It has been planted in limited quantities in Paarl, Tulbagh and Worcester. Spreeth warns that while yields can be high in the early years, it usually flattens out thereafter. 


Macabeo is by far the most planted white grape variety in its homeland of Spain, but in South Africa, only 1.5 hectares have been planted. Spreeth says it is a good drought-tolerant crop, but they have experienced problems with wind damaging the crops. Some 70 hectares of the variety are planned for South Africa. 

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