South Africa Wines Make Splash in Korea

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South Africa Wines Make Splash in Korea

Advanced viticultural techniques, or winemaking methods, have been developed throughout history to produce different types of wine, but the basic principles have changed very little. It's easy to get lost in the sea of available varieties, yet wine lovers still crave something new. South African wine, also known as Cape wine, has a long history of proven quality and has gained popularity in both Europe and East Asia in the past few years.

Since Jan van Riebeeck, the first governor of Cape Town, planted South Africa's first vine more than 300 years ago, producers of wine have strived to develop African wine into one of superior quality. Most of the wine grape varieties cultivated in South Africa originated from Europe and were later grafted onto American grape vine roots to resist local diseases. Among the first-rate white wines produced in South Africa are Wiesser Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The reds include Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Pinot Noir, but perhaps most noteworthy of the Cape wine varieties are those excellent hybrids made from local blends of grapes. Of the six hybrid varieties, five are white: Chenel, Weldra, Colomino, Grachen and Follet. The best known is the red hybrid variety called Pinotage, a blend of Pinot Noir and Hermitage, which is cultivated locally and highly regarded internationally.

The flavors and characteristics of the wines are largely dependent on the weather and soil of the region. South Africa has the ideal habitat for growing fine grapes - a Mediterranean climate, sun-drenched summers (from December to February) and mild frosty winters (from June to August). Mountainous slopes and valleys complete with rich soil and good water retention ensure that the grapes will have enough sugar.

Given the favorable combination of the climate and soil, each year the region yields about 950 million liters of wine produced by a work force made up of 300,000 people engaged in the winemaking industry. About 5,000 farmers cultivate approximately 100,000 hectares of vineyards, which are spread throughout the Western Cape. The opening of foreign markets, along with the democratization of the formerly politically troubled country in 1994 (when Nelson Mandela became president of South African), led to a rapid increase in exports of wine. An official seal is given to each bottle by the Wine & Spirit Board, which verifies the claims made on the label regarding origin, vintage and grape variety.

Five young winemakers visited Korea during the third week of May to personally introduce their wines at Vinotec in the Grand Inter-Continental hotel in Seoul. New wines to be introduced to the general public later this year are Neil Ellis Shiraz, Beaumont Pinotage, Delaire Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Joostenberg Chenin Blanc Natural Sweet, Kanu Wooded Chenin Blanc and Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc.

The winemaker Hose Conde is also the manager of a South African wine distribution company that sells wines in Japan. He told the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition that South Africa is one of the oldest wine trading countries in the world and has 350 years of experience in the field. He considers wine distribution in Japan to have some of the most lax policies in Asia, enabling Japanese to buy wine at some of the lowest prices in the world. Since the economic downturn in 1993, Japanese consumers have begun seeking value for their money and have come to expect high quality at reasonable prices.

As Koreans' standard of living rises, they are seeking the finest in drinking and eating. Mr. Conde sees Korea as the second strongest potential market in Asia despite the fact that Korea has some of the highest wine prices in the world because of a government tariff on imported wines. He says with optimism that the Korean market is similar to the Japanese market 15-20 years ago and that South African wine exporters are really more concerned with the crucial next 5 to ten years for reaping any kinds of benefits from wine trade with Korea.

"We're South African," Mr. Conde continued, "We were born and raised there, and we've got nowhere to go if we don't make it. We left behind our dark history by adopting a new way of thinking. Like Korea, South Africa is a young country that invests in the future."

Currently, available South African wines in Korea include several white varieties such as Simonsig Pinotage, Shiraz, and Sauvignon Blanc and several red varieties, including Backsberg Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Klein Babylonstoren and Chardonnay. Most of the South African wines are imported by Handock Wine Co., PRK and Inter Wine. South African wines can be purchased at the Deli Shop at the Grand Hyatt hotel, the Grand Cafe of the Grand Inter-Continental hotel, JW Marriott Hotel, the Ninth Gate Restaurant at the Westin Chosun, Jell Delicatessen, wine shops at Hyundai Department Store chains (Apgujeong-dong and Samseong-dong), etc. For more information on South African wine, contact Michelle Cho at Inter Wine (02-792-7660) in Seoul or visit the Web site ( or e-mail Jose Conde at

by Inēs Cho

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