KwaZulu-Natal wine is the new kid on the block in South Africa’s 350-year-old viticultural history. Barely older than a decade (the first real trial vineyards were planted in 2001), KwaZulu-Natal vineyards, though embryonic, have survived naysayers, Mother Nature, and charlatan winemakers, to produce wines with gravitas and Old World finesse.

Did you know?

At 1118m above sea level, Abingdon's wines are unofficially the highest altitude certified single vineyard estate wines in the country.  

KwaZulu-Natal wines are proof that perseverance can triumph over adversity.

KwaZulu-Natal’s first experimental vines, planted at various locations in the province, failed dismally. Severe weather, unsuitable cultivars, and winegrowers that lacked the necessary regional viticultural knowledge, were among the reasons that attempts to establish KwaZulu-Natal vineyards were unsuccessful.

The high-lying Midlands – an inland area with a cool climate moderated by the Drakensberg mountain range, with temperatures that typically range below 30 degrees Centrigrade in summer and above 20 degrees Centigrade in winter – proved the exception.

Various plantings at the Bracken Hill Farm in Greytown in 2002, and at Abingdon Estate in 2004, heralded the successful start of a commercial wine industry in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Stables wine estate was established in 2005, near Nottingham Road, but by mid-2010, the operation had faltered, leaving Abingdon Estate and Highgate as the major players.

That same year, under the wine classification scheme, the Geographic Wine Unit of KwaZulu-Natal was classified as an un-demarcated Wine of Origin region.

In 2005, Highgate, now a registered wine estate in Lion's River, planted its maiden vines. In 2009, the estate released its first certified wine, an unfiltered chardonnay, under the Lion's Head Vineyard label. Plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon followed. To date, none of Highgate’s four red cultivars has been certified.

While at Highgate, drop in at the Piggly Wiggly farm stall where you'll find Meander Fine Wines, stockists of Highgate products.

Of the two, Abingdon Estate in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains, in Lion's River, is proving that KwaZulu-Natal wines have what it takes to make exceptional produce in their cool-climate vineyards.

Abingdon is blessed with the Holy Grail of terroir: blue shale, dolerite, and sandstone soils that impart minerality to the wines. Good drainage captures the abundant summer rainfall, and mild temperatures and altitude calm the grapes' sugar and alcohol levels.

Though KwaZulu-Natal vineyards benefit from a longer growing period, winemakers must focus on trellising to ensure their vines remain free of diseases like downy mildew or grey rot. Their only protection against the Midland’s midsummer thunderbolts and hailstones is prayer.

In 2010, Abingdon, which produced KwaZulu-Natal’s first certified estate wine in 2007, released seven single-vineyard, estate-certified wines.

Elegant and delicate, Abingdon’s Old World-style wines have a cult following that ensures their Rhône varietals, including an un-wooded Viognier and wild yeast-fermented Rosé produced in limited quantities, are snapped up even before they’re bottled.

KwaZulu-Natal wines add another dimension to South Africa’s wine offering, and Western Cape winemakers are following the region’s progress with interest.

In the meantime, wine lovers should meander along to Lion's River in the Midlands, for a glassful of terroir-expressive wines from KwaZulu-Natal’s duo of wine farms.

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