Major Cape Chardonnay Growing Regions


Stellenbosch is 40km east of Cape Town. Simonsberg Mountain in the north separates it from Paarl, while the Hottentot Holland Mountain range on the eastern side separates it from Walker Bay. False Bay lies roughly 20km to the south.

Vineyards cover the gently rolling hills of Stellenbosch, from Helderberg in the south to the lower slopes of Simonsberg Mountain in the north. This terrain allows for a lot of variation in wine styles, and microclimates suitable for the cultivation of all sorts of grape varieties can be found among the exposed hills and sheltered valleys.

Granite and sandstone soils are found throughout Stellenbosch. Their high clay content means that while they are free-draining, they have excellent water-retention properties. Sufficient rainfall in winter allows growers to keep irrigation to a minimum. Much has been made of the suitability of the soils in Stellenbosch for the production of premium red-wine grapes in particular.

The region's climate is relatively hot and dry, although a maritime influence comes from False Bay in the south. Cooling south-easterly breezes wash through the vineyards in the afternoons, refreshing the grapes after the morning's hot sun. White-wine varieties are often planted closer to the ocean where this effect is more pronounced.

Such is the variation of terroir here that Stellenbosch is divided into many different wine-producing areas. The wards of Banghoek, Bottelary, Papegaaiberg, Polkadraai Hills, Devon Valley, Jonkershoek Valley and Simonsberg-Stellenbosch are all recognized by the Wine of Origin scheme. The unofficial areas of Helderberg and Stellenboschkloof also have their own distinctive wine styles.


Paarl is located 60 kilometers inland from Cape Town and just north of Stellenbosch. Paarl's huge variation of terroir gives wine farms opportunities to experiment with many different grape varieties and blends.

The town of Paarl is bordered on the east by the Boland Mountains and on the west by the imposing Paarl Rock. As a district, it encompasses the wards of Voor Paardeberg and Simonsberg-Paarl. Franschhoek Valley can be found 25km south-west of Paarl, and Stellenbosch lies just beyond the Simonsberg Mountain, a large granite outcrop that forms a part of the Cape Fold Belt.

Paarl's vineyards are found on the lower slopes of Paarl Rock, on the northern side of Simonsberg Mountain and in the valley of the Berg River. The two mountains provide well-drained granite and shale soils for the vines, while the soil on the valley floor is more sandstone-based. Vineyards grown on the upper slopes benefit from these nutrient-poor soils: vines are forced to dig deeper for nourishment, making them stronger and inhibiting yields. As a result, wines that are produced from vineyards higher up on the Paarl and Simonsberg Mountains tend to be of a more premium quality.

Paarl's climate is relatively hot compared to the more coastal areas of the Western Cape. Long, hot summers and cold, rainy winters are typical of the area. Rainfall is moderate to high, but such is the heat that vineyards are often irrigated over summer to help cool the plants. The Atlantic Ocean, 60km away, has a small amount of influence in the form of a cooling afternoon breeze.


Elgin 65km southeast of Cape Town, is located in a basin nestled among the Hottentots-Holland Mountains, which separate it from the famous Stellenbosch region. Elgin rises between 250m to 400m above sea level and this (coupled with prevailing southerly winds) contributes to the cool climate that characterizes its terroir and wines.

Proximity to the South Atlantic Ocean, just 12km away, means lower average temperatures over summer and refreshing early-morning mists. This combination of climate-moderating factors makes for slower, more-gradual ripening and thus more-balanced wines with great depth and complexity of flavour.

The topography gently undulates across the Elgin Valley, providing wine growers with a diverse selection of sites on which to plant their vines. The soil profile also varies, with gravel, sandstone, clay and weathered shale all contributing to the terroir.

The Cape has a spectacular regional diversity in its Chardonnay offering

Robertson is a wine-producing area in the Breede River Valley region of the Western Cape, 160km) east of Cape Town. The area covers the land directly surrounding the town of Robertson, from the ward of Eilandia in the west to Bonnievale in the east. It is separated from the semi-arid Klein Karoo region in the north by the Langeberg Mountains. The Breede River meanders through the region, and many of Robertson's scattered vineyards sit along its tributaries, as well as on the foothills of the mountains.

The dry, hot climate in Robertson is optimal for the production of premium grapes. Annual rainfall is a scant 400mm, and the river is used often for irrigation. However, south-easterly breezes from the Indian Ocean 90km away have a cooling effect on the vineyards and bring moisture to the area. Occasional mists also bring refreshing coolness.

While daytime temperatures can get up to 30°C / 85°F, evenings are much cooler. This diurnal temperature variation means that the grapes have a chance to cool down overnight, letting them retain acidity while still developing rich flavor profiles. Winters are relatively cold, allowing the vines a period of dormancy before the next growing season.

The distinctive medley of soil types gives wine farms in Robertson plenty of options when it comes to site selection. Rich, alluvial soils in the river valley are perfect for the production of red wine, while red, gravelly soils reminiscent of the nearby Karoo desert are well suited to white-wine varieties. Chardonnay grapes thrive on the pockets of limestone soil found throughout Robertson. High levels of lime in the soil give a chalky minerality to the resultant wines, much like in the region of Chablis in France.


Hemel-en-Aarde (which means "heaven and earth" in the Afrikaans language) is a wine-producing area of Walker Bay in the Western Cape of South Africa, about 80 kilometers southeast of Cape Town. The region's close proximity to the coast means that it enjoys a distinctly maritime climate. Elegant, cool-climate wines made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with a certain degree of Burgundian style are a particular specialty of the region, which has considerably increased its international reputation in recent years.

The Hemel-en-Aarde viticultural zone lies in a valley that extends 27km northeast-wards from the whale-watching town of Hermanus on the coast. It is divided into three wards each with a distinct Wine of Origin designation. Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is situated closest to the sea, though the vineyards of Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley rarely lie further than 15km from Walker Bay. Furthest inland is the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge WO. The wider region is bordered on the north side by the Babylonstoren Mountains, and on the south by the Kleinrivier Mountains. The Onrust River runs through the valley.

The Antarctic Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean brings cooling breezes to the area, predominantly from the south-east. This oceanic influence means that average summer temperatures in Hemel-en-Aarde are significantly cooler than regions further inland such as Stellenbosch and Paarl. Clouds are hemmed in by the surrounding mountains, trapping cool air and moisture in the narrow Hemel-en-Aarde valley.

Vineyards stretch along the valley floor, but also reach up the foothills of the mountains to altitudes of up to 350m above sea level. White wine grape varieties such as Chardonnay prefer the shaded south-facing slopes, while red-wine grape varieties such as Pinot Noir do well on the north-facing slopes that have greater access to sunlight. The exposure to both sun and wind on these slopes leads to a longer ripening period, allowing the vines to produce grapes with concentrated flavors and good acidity.

The soils in the region are largely Bokkeveld shale, Table Mountain sandstone and decomposed granite. These provide excellent drainage, particularly on elevated vineyards, causing the vines to grow deep, strong root systems. Low fertility in these soils ensures the vines do not waste precious energy on producing foliage. The high clay content of the soils found in Hemel-en-Aarde is reminiscent of the Cote d'Or in Burgundy.


Franschhoek Valley is a broad vineyard-lined valley in the southeast corner of Paarl, in South Africa's Western Cape. This small valley is home to some of South Africa's most famous wine estates and has been producing wine since the 17th Century. Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are the key grapes behind Franschhoek's full-bodied red wines.

The vineyards of Franschhoek sit within a clearly defined valley. The Wemmershoek Mountains to the north separate it from the Breede River Valley, while the Groot Drakenstein and Franschhoek Mountains to the south protect it from heavy oceanic influences. The Berg River, originating in the Drakenstein Mountains, runs through the center of Franschhoek towards Paarl. This topography is ideal for viticulture, allowing for vignerons to control the aspect to maximise sunshine hours.

Soils in Franschhoek are largely made up of alluvial sandstone, although there are deposits of granite on the slopes of the mountains in the north. While heavy soils closer to the river have some water-retaining qualities, the sandy soils on the lower slopes drain rapidly. This means that despite the reasonable amount of rainfall in the area during winter, some irrigation is still required.

Franschhoek Valley is a stand-alone Coastal Region district in the South African Wine of Origin scheme. Nearby districts include Stellenbosch in the southwest and the higher-altitude areas of Overberg in the east.

Winegrowing Areas of South Africa Map

Map courtesy of WOSA

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Breedekloof Wine Valley

Breedekloof is a wine-producing area in the west of the Breede River Valley, a part of the Western Cape of South Africa. The surrounding mountain ranges and the meandering Breede River contribute to the varied terroir in the region.

Breedekloof lies to the west of Worcester on the far side of the Breede River. Its western border is marked by the Slanghoek Mountains, which separate it from the famous region of Paarl. The Badsberg Mountain bisects the area of Breedekloof in two, separating the district's two wards of Goudini and Slanghoek.

The mountains have a moderating effect on the climate in Breedekloof. Afternoon shadows from the Slanghoek Mountains shorten the hot days in the region and bring considerably colder evenings. This diurnal temperature variation allows the grapes time to cool down, letting them retain their fresh acidity while still developing ripe fruit flavors.

The Breede River and its many tributaries create a variety of microclimates in Breedekloof, and appropriate site selection is vital to growers. While white-wine varieties flourish on the cooler valley floors, red-wine varieties do better on the north-facing higher slopes where they have more access to sunlight for ripening.

Soil types in Breedekloof range from the sandy loam around the river's banks to the rockier, more stony soils in the mountains. These well-drained mountain soils are beneficial to the red-wine varieties planted here: the roots are forced to dig deeper for water, resulting in lower grape yields and more flavor concentration in the grapes.

Breedekloof is home to both large co-operative and small boutique wineries. As with many wine areas in the Western Cape, the local authorities are well set up for wine tourism, with wine route maps available to aid the visitor to find cellar doors.


Overberg takes its name from its location in relation to Cape Town: over the Hottentot-Holland Mountains (over the berg). The region stretches from here to the Breede River over 160 kilometers to the east is also flanked by the Riviersonderend Mountains to the north and Walker Bay to the south. As part of the Cape South Coast region, its neighbors include the Elgin and Walker Bay districts.

The Overberg district stretches from the Klein River area on the coast up to the higher-altitude Theewater and Elandskloof areas about 50 kilometers inland. The topography of the region is varied, and grapes do as well on the rich, fertile river plains as they do on the stony mountain slopes. Soils are predominantly sandstone, particularly in the mountainous wards of Theewater and Elandskloof. However, there are also pockets of limestone and shale, and the riverbeds of the Klein River are sandy in nature.

Overberg is fairly new as a grape-growing appellation, as the land has been more traditionally associated with apple growing and grape-juice production. It wasn't until the construction of the Theewater Dam in the north of the region in the 1980s that farmers began to experiment with vineyards and winemaking. The region is now beginning to be associated with the production of high-quality wine, and many famous wineries from other regions (such as Paarl and Franschhoek) have established vineyards here, especially in the Klein River ward near Stanford.

Altitude plays an important role in Overberg. Vineyards can reach as high as 700 meters (2300ft) above sea level, giving them more sunlight hours than lower-altitude estates. This elevation, coupled with cooling sea breezes from Walker Bay, leads to a longer ripening season, which often stretches well into March and April. These growing conditions make for well-balanced wines that are complex in flavor with good levels of fresh acidity. North-easterly winds in winter bring rain to Overberg, and the highest-altitude vineyards also get snow. This allows the vines a period of dormancy over the winter, giving them time to replenish their stocks of nutrients before the next growing season.


Constantia is a historic wine-growing area in the southern suburbs of Cape Town in the Western Cape of South Africa. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, the area was famed for its legendary dessert wine Vin de Constance. Nowadays, Constantia is known for premium cool-climate wines, including Chardonnay.

Constantia's estates stretch from low ground all the way up the south-eastern sides of the Constantiaberg mountain. The highest vineyards reach 400m above sea level and are among the steepest in South Africa.

Both the shade of the mountain and the constant sea breezes contribute to lower average temperatures on the slopes, helping the grapes planted here to retain their fresh acidity. Wind is important for vine health as well. The constant buffeting of the south-easterly winds stresses the vines, causing them to dig deeper into the ground for nutrients.

Constantia sits on top of ancient deposits of decomposed granite. These soils are well drained and fertile and have a high clay content. Water absorbed by the clay during wet winters helps to keep the vines hydrated over the dry summers.

Cape South Coast Wine

Cape South Coast is a recently-designated South African wine region which forms part of the Western Cape Geographical Unit. It is located to the east of the Coastal Region in which the bulk of South African wine production takes place.

Six wine districts are located within its boundaries: Cape Agulhas, Elgin (measured as the coolest wine district in South Africa), Overberg, Plettenberg Bay, Swellendam and Walker Bay.


Swartland is a large wine-producing area 65 kilometers north of Cape Town in the Western Cape of South Africa. Traditionally a wheat-producing region, it now specializes in making rich, fruit-driven wines.

Swartland covers a large area, encompassing the vineyards on the northern side of the Paardeberg mountain in the south to the plains of Piketberg in the north. The smaller ward of Riebeekberg and the Kasteelberg Mountain lie in the eastern part of the region, while the cooler district of Darling separates the area from the Atlantic Ocean. The topography is varied, and vineyards can be found on steep mountain foothills or on gently folding hillsides.

The climate is hot and dry, which viticulturists have used to their advantage in Swartland's vineyards. Dry conditions significantly reduce the risk of fungal diseases among the vines, and a lack of water in the soil leads to lower yields and smaller, more-concentrated fruit. Hardy, drought-resistant bush vines have been utilized in the hottest, driest parts of the region.

The dominant soil type in Swartland is Malmesbury shale, named for the town of Malmesbury that sits in the middle of the region. There are also pockets of granite, particularly around the Paardeberg area. While these soils are well drained, they also hold enough water in their lower reaches to support the irrigation-free farming technique that is used extensively throughout the region. Bush vines will dig especially deep to get to the water reserves in the soil, resulting in stronger vines and particularly concentrated flavours in the grapes.

Swartland (Dutch for 'black land') is named for the native renosterbos (rhinoceros bush) that turns black after rain.

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Today some 6 685ha (13%) of the Cape Winelands is planted to Chardonnay