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Our wine heritage Featured

Aug 04, 2016

Cape Town is becoming known for its superb food, and wine to go with it.

Wine tourism is a growing trend across the world, with more and more people visiting cities specifically to visit wineries and enjoy the wines of the country.

Wine is also big business for the city and province, with some 300 000 people employed directly and indirectly in the industry, which contributes R36 billion to the economy.

The central city may be a strange place to begin exploring the Cape’s winelands, which stretch to almost 100 000 hectares under vines, but it’s in fact the birthplace of the industry. CityLife wine columnist Ginette de Fleuriot says “Capetonians and visitors may know of Constantia, but there are wine treasures to be discovered in the CBD”.

Heritage Square, on the corner of Shortmarket and Bree streets, was once destined to be a multi-storey parking garage. Fortunately, opposition to this and the Buitengracht freeway ring road, halted the demolition of the historical buildings. The site was restored in the 1980s by the Cape Town Heritage Trust and Shortmarket Properties, and now includes a hotel, restaurants, retail outlets and offices.

Also saved was one of the most remarkable examples of South African vinous history, the country’s oldest vine dating from 1781.

Wine is also big business for the city and province, with some 300 000 people employed directly and indirectly in the industry, which contributes R36 billion to the economy.

The vine, in the courtyard, continues to bear fruit and in 2008 The Heritage Hotel had four magnums and twelve 750ml bottles made from the grapes. The wine was named 1771, the date on which the earliest Dutch and Georgian houses were built there, and sold on auction. Jean Vincent Ridon, winemaker and owner of Signal Hill Winery, the first of two wineries situated at Heritage Square, successfully bottled wine from this vine in 2011 as did Christophe Durand of the neighbouring winery, Dorrance Cellars, in 2015.

The vine is the rather lacklustre Crouchen Blanc, once referred to as Cape Riesling but lacking both the pedigree and the exquisite taste of a true Riesling.

The Company Gardens, not Constantia or Stellenbosch, was the chosen location for vines brought to the Cape by Jan van Riebeeck. His journal entry on 2 February 1659 notes: “Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes.” As a ship’s doctor, Van Riebeeck believed wine could cure scurvy, so among his first tasks in 1652 was to plant vines. He brought cuttings from the German Rheingau area followed by stock from Bohemia, the Canary Islands, Spain and France. Among these was the Crouchen Blanc, which today makes up less than 0.5% of the total vineyard area. It’s believed that the first wine was made from French Muscadel (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains), but it was nothing like the sweet nectar we associate with the famed Muscat wines of Constantia. By all accounts, it tasted rather rancid.

“Much has changed since then. If you are looking for an historical wine experience in the Cape, there is no need to Uber to Constantia or Stellenbosch. Pop in to Heritage Square and sample some of our finest wines made in the city with grapes from Kalk Bay, Oranjezicht and even Camps Bay,” she says.  

Visit: Signal Hill Winery, Heritage Square, 100 Shortmarket Street. 021 424 5820. Dorrance Cellar, Heritage Square, 95 Hout Street. 021 422 0695

Last modified on Thursday, 01 September 2016 11:32
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