Climbing the peaks of South Africa’s new wine scene
Fifteen years ago, when Jim Clarke first visited South Africa, he discovered a country of contrasts. Although the era of apartheid was over, the country was still suffering from its legacy, with a huge gap to be bridged between rich white and poor black South Africans. The contrast in the wines was no less stark – while there were glimpses of the quality that could be achieved many of the country’s wines were at best cheap and cheerful.
Much has changed in both society and the wine industry over the intervening years, as a new book, The wines of South Africa, by Jim Clarke, explains. Where he saw potential fifteen years ago Clarke now regularly encounters truly expressive, quality wines, noting that the quality level in all wines has been raised, and clumsy wines are now a rarity. He says, “Today one can taste through the wines of South Africa and experience the expansive range of expression the Cape’s many terroirs are capable of … the industry is at a point where its right to a seat at the table is undisputed by anyone who has taken the time to taste. South Africa is making great wines.”
Of course, one cannot discuss the wines of a country with a political legacy like South Africa’s without placing those wines in their social context. As a chapter on the country’s history shows, the racist attitudes that led to apartheid, and which still cause inequality, were baked into the republic from its foundation as a European colony. Clarke devotes an entire chapter to the country’s recent transformation, explaining the efforts made by the wine industry to create better conditions for the largely non-white agricultural workforce and encourage more black people to choose wine as a career.
The scenery of the Western Cape is stunningly beautiful and the unique geography, geology and climate conditions here contribute greatly to the wines these days. While in the past, in pursuit of wines appealing to international markets, South Africa’s winemakers aimed to manipulate and obscure the natural expression of the wines, today’s craftsmen and women allow the terroir to come to the fore. By discussing the signature grape varieties and their expression in each region, Clarke says he aims to guide readers towards those wines that suit their tastes.
The book does not attempt to include more than a sample of South Africa’s producers. The profiles here provide a cross-section that demonstrates the range of different approaches and styles on offer, from large, well-established businesses through to smaller or younger producers, and show what is most interesting or representative within each region.
Overall, The wines of South Africa is a must for all those interested in tracing the rebirth of South African wine.
About the author
Jim Clarke became interested in wine after moving to New York City in 2001 and taking a job waiting tables, training as a sommelier on the job and through classes with the American Sommelier Association. A writing competition led to an introduction to South African wine and the start of Jim’s journalistic career. He has written for the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, World of Fine Wine, Beverage Media, and Fortune, among others. In 2013 Jim took a position as Wines of South Africa’s U.S. marketing manager. He remains active as a freelance writer, covering wine, sake, and related subjects. He speaks regularly at a number of wine events and judges in several international wine competitions.
The wines of South Africa is published by Infinite Ideas on 20 July 2020.
ISBN: 9781913022020, pb, rrp £30, 234 x 156mm, 324pp.
Also available as an eBook.
Review copies available from email@example.com; 07802 443957