Unique provenance is the heart of Swartland Wine of Origin

Written by Clifford Roberts; Photography Johan Viljoen

Wine is different; it has a home. And just north of Cape Town, this begins with Wine of Origin Swartland.

Unlike other drinks, the immense variety of expressions that make wine so enjoyable and interesting directly reflects where its fruit comes from. In South Africa, that unique trait is protected by the Wine of Origin Scheme, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Among the scheme’s district categories, Swartland is the largest area. Far from being homogenous, the demarcation highlights the vast differences of its vine growing areas by defining the wards of Malmesbury, Paardeberg/Perdeberg, Paardeberg South, Piket-Bo-Berg, Porseleinberg, Riebeekberg and Riebeeksrivier. St Helena Bay is defined as the sole Swartland Ward in the sub-region of the Cape West Coast.

The Swartland is also a wheat production area.

But what difference does this talk of Wine of Origin Swartland make to a wine drinker?

Used on labels of South African wine, the term Wine of Origin, sometimes abbreviated to WO, denotes a production area. Its purpose is to confirm that the grapes from which the wine is made, hail from that specific area.

Of course, one could point to producers making Wine of Origin Swartland being dominated by certain ancient soil types like those at Mullineux; perhaps a Mediterranean climate that allowed Portuguese varieties to thrive at Allesverloren; or, even the contribution of unique biodiversity that spurs organic farming at Dragonridge and Org de Rac.

The unique soils of the Piket-bo-berg area
The Riebeek Valley with the renewable energy wind turbines near the town Gouda in the background.

One could talk about the warm days and cool breezes at nights, but also the diversity of altitudes and secluded valleys that buck the trends.

The Wine of Origin Scheme is ultimately about providing a trustworthy guide to what are the presiding natural characteristics – soil, climate and topography – of a wine production area. But there’s a particular appreciation of these wines, however, that can only come from that old adage: if you want to know, go.

Billy Hughes’ winery, for example, is literally a hole in the ground. The sides of this deep pit are shored up by shipping containers, which he also employs as a roof. But, rustic as it is, this unique set-up produces wines by Nativo that sing with bright clarity. No Wine of Origin label will give you that detail.

In a nearby valley, down Jakkalsfontein Road, it’s grit of a historical nature that clings to the farmstead where JC Wickens makes his Swerwer wines. Ancient oaks tower over an old, white-walled house; a rusty sign swings in the breeze. It’s a nook of the Paardeberg that few people ever get to, but is a visit that makes the enjoyment of the wines just so much richer.

Vines in the Paardeberg are mostly farmed dryland and rely on annual rainfall for survival. Farm dams are few.

On the higher slopes, Stephan Basson farms vineyards among extrusions that jut from the granite outcrop. The views are magnificent from up here, but it’s the particular climate and soils that breathe life into the fruit of the family estate Babylon’s Peak.

To explore Wine of Origin Swartland, start by making contact.

A number of farms rely on the Berg River that meanders through the region for irrigation water, quotas are limited.
A moody day in the Riebeek Valley. The Swartland is a winter rainfall area, but showers sometimes occur during the early summer months.

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