Sparkling wine was pioneered by Simonsig Estate in Stellenbosch, in 1971, using the traditional method, here known as Methode Cap Classique (MCC) – directly analagous to the methode traditionelle of Champagne, but neither of those terms is legally permitted since the 1990s. MCC wine is important for the export market, and carbonated wine for the domestic market.
In the coastal and near coastal regions in the Western Cape. Growing areas are known as WO or Wine of Origin, which can identify from as small as a specific vineyard, up to a wide geographical extent. Premier MCC WOs in terms of production volume are, from the top, Stellenbosch (40km east of Cape Town), followed by Franschoeck (50km east) and Constantia (10km south). Carbonated production is centred at about 80-120km inland, around Breedekloof, Robertson and Worcester.
The climate of Cape Town and its environ is cooler than its latitude of 34S might suggest. Why? Because the cold Benguela Current originating in the Antarctic sweeps past the west coast of Africa, moderating the climate to be of a warm Mediterranean character. So it is mild winters with most rainfall in winter and spring, in summer warm days and cool nights, which combined with the long growing season gives slow ripening and a concentration of aroma and flavour precursors. Inland, elevation helps retain acidity, as does daytime warming as it causes air to rise over the land and draw in cooler air from the coastal regions.
The Cape Doctor – is an airflow blowing strongly across the Western Cape in spring and summer, it moderates temperatures and has a drying character, inhibiting disease – hence its name.
Granitic, with clay and shale, giving good drainage and water holding capacity.
The Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA) was formed by a group of high quality producers in 1992. Today, it represents the interests of about 80 members, promoting both MCC as a generic descriptor in the domestic and international marketplaces, and their premium MCC wines.
The steadily growing external market is dominated by MCC wines. The brut style is dominant, with < 15 g/l residual sugar. In 2008 exports reached 4m litres.
The steadily growing domestic market is dominated by carbonated sparkling wines, carbonated on the bottling line. In 2008, domestic consumption was almost 10m litres, 8m of carbonated and 2m of MCC.
The most important production methods are MCC and carbonation; charmat and transfer method usages are very slight.
MCC has gone from strength to strength in production, consumption, quality and price; brut style dominates, Stellenbosch leads.
Carbonated wines are generally sweet and white, with most from the 3 Breede River WOs, above.
Warmer north-facing slopes are planted with varieties needing more warmth – cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and pinotage.
Cooler south-facing slopes are planted with more delicate varieties requiring acid retention – chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc.
CCPA recommends chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, but currently there is little meunier grown, so pinotage can be used instead. Other varieties in use include: chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc and sémillon.
With carbonated production there is no restriction on grape varieties used. Those used include: chardonnay, chenin blanc, pinotage, sauvignon blanc and the muscat.
There is a range of training methods applied, some examples:
- Bush vines – Simonsberg, Klein Karoo; with increased canopy against sun burn.
- Double cordon – Constantia, Durbanville, Helderberg, Elgin, Franschoek, Stellenbosch; against fungal infection encouraged by moist coast breezes.
- Espalier – Roberston; gives denser canopy to protect grapes against sun burn.
- VSP – Lomond; against strong prevailing winds.
MCC is used for premium wine, so all the usual champagne processes are applied. Base wines are fermented in stainless steel, with 2nd fermentation in bottle, then a minimum of 12 months lees ageing, though 2-4 years is normal. This is followed by post-disgorgement maturation for some time. Minimum pressure of 3atm.
Carbonation method – base wines are fermented in stainless steel, then blended and transferred to a tank under CO2, and chilled to 0C. The chilled wine is then passed though a carbonator, in which the flow rate, wine temperature and CO2 pressure are adjusted to give the desired gas pressure. The carbonated wine is then held under pressure to allow for the better absorption of the CO2. The wine is then bottled under pressure (Rankine, 2002).
Charmat (aka cuvee close or tank) – some wine is made in this way, as it suits aromatic varieties like sauvignon blanc.
The most common is blanc de blanc brut and champagne blend (both NV and vintage); also more esoteric blends like a rose from pinot noir, pinotage and pinot meunier.
Many Cap Classique producers make a vintage wine every year – so the term does not have the same meaning quality-wise as in vintage Champagne. Vintage wines are typically brut, fresh and citrussy, fruity, with subdued autolytic notes; 11.5-12.5%.
Twelve months minimum MCC lees ageing.
- Newton, P. (2010). Sparkling Wine: The Growth of this Category of Wine in South Africa. Masters dissertation, Cape Wine Academy. [Online]. Accessed 15/11/16.
- Rankine, B. (2004). Making good wine. McPherson’s Printing Group, Australia.
- Swart, E., and Smit, I. (2009). The Essential Guide to South African Wines. Cheviot Publishing.
- Wines of South Africa, the industry organisation promoting international export. [Online]. Accessed 15/11/16.