Chenin Blanc’s potential to drive the South African white wine category, as the country’s signature or reference wine, was recently discussed by wine makers and other industry role players at the Chenin Blanc Conference in Stellenbosch, hosted by the Chenin Blanc Association.
Chenin Blanc has long been considered the workhorse of the South African wine industry, and large-scale plantings of this grape variety provide grapes used in distilling and wine making. The variety has a long history in South Africa, and many older Chenin Blanc vineyards offer local wine makers the chance to produce some of the best Chenin Blanc in the world.
In an online survey, Dutch wine journalist and researcher on local wines, Cees van Casteren, asked 650 South African wineries to select a wine grape variety they considered the top contender as a reference wine for the country.
Chenin Blanc was the highest ranked wine for both red and white wines. The only other variety that featured prominently overall was Pinotage.
Van Casteren, explained that to qualify as a “signature wine” either the grape variety used should be unique to the country of origin or the wine should be a distinctive variation on a particular grape variety.
As examples, he referred to the famous Argentinean Malbecs and New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blancs. Furthermore, Van Casteren said, the grape variety should be commercially significant to the country of origin in terms of vineyard surface and exports. Reference wines should also enjoy industry support and be endorsed by the international press and trade.
According to Carl van der Merwe of De Morgenzon wine estate in Stellenbosch, it seems there is already some association between South Africa and Chenin Blanc among consumers internationally. “Chenin Blanc is a very strong variety that’s adaptable to most growing conditions, making it extremely well positioned to make the best of South Africa’s rather harsh climate,” he said.
Bruwer Raats, of Raats Family Wines in Stellenbosch, agreed on Chenin Blanc’s potential as a reference wine. He highlighted the importance of planting new, high quality Chenin Blanc clones to help ensure the future of quality Chenin Blanc production in South Africa. – Denene Erasmus