Of all the regions in South Africa which have yet to fully realize their potential, Swartland undoubtedly offers the most promise. Situated to the north-west of Paarl, Swartland (Black land in Dutch) is increasingly recognized for its excellent terroir, particularly suitable for growing red varieties such as Pinotage, Shiraz and other Rhone grapes to optimum ripeness, producing wines of real concentration and inimitable style.
Swartland is to be found 65 Kilometers north of Cape Town and is still an important center of cereal growing. But in wine terms, it was formerly regarded as something of a poor relation to the more established Stellenbosch and Paarl. Indeed, for many years it was associated with robust, alcoholic and harsh red wines which often ended up in the nondescript ‘Cape Blends,’ the mainstay of South Africa’s remaining wine cooperatives. However, this perception is increasingly being eroded by pioneers like Charles Back of Fairview and Eben Sadie, who have successfully demonstrated that Swartland can produce powerful and yet balanced wines of real class and merit. Their enthusiasm will surely inspire others to invest in Swartland’s varied terroir, bringing more exciting bottles to South Africa’s rapidly expanding mosaic of wine styles.
The region is currently planted with approximately 11,500 hectares of vineyards, with Chenin Blanc, Shiraz and other Rhone red varieties dominating the picture. The region is quite vast, with higher altitude vineyards flanking the northern side of the Paardeberg Mountain, in addition to the vineyards that line the plains of Piketberg in the north. And so like most of South Africa, the topography is diverse and subsequently, vineyards can be found in vastly different altitudes and situations, which of course directly affects the resulting wine style.
Swartland enjoys a very hot and dry climate, with rain very rare in the summer months. Hardy bush vines thrive in these conditions, however, it is equally true that varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are simply unsuitable for Swartland’s growing conditions. Dry farming is very common in Swartland, with sea air from the Atlantic offering a vital moderating factor to the intense summer heat. The vines are predominately planted on Malmesbury Shale, named after the village found in the region. However, pockets of well-drained granite soils can also be found, these tend to give the most concentrated and ripe fruit prized by the region’s growers.
So what then does Swartland offer the curious oenophile? Well, excellent Shiraz abounds, in addition to aromatic Chenin Blanc and red Rhone blends that have been winning awards worldwide for several years now. The terroir naturally gives hearty, concentrated but fresh wines, ideal for serving with a variety of dishes including barbecued meats, game, and even bush meat!
Darling, an enclave within Swartland must not be omitted from this discussion. Located in the Groenenkloof ward, it is very well exposed to cool influences from the Atlantic to the West and has built up a mighty reputation for its pungent, delicious Sauvignon Blanc, pioneered by Neil Ellis. It is also close to the beautiful city of Cape Town, making Darling a must-visit destination for any traveling epicurean.