Note: I’ve decided to start posting my newspaper columns to the regular blog. I write these every other week for 11 Indiana newspapers, reaching about 200,000 homes. I post every newspaper column to a separate blog as an archive. The past columns can be accessed there under Grape Sense, in the left hand column of this blog.

Sports have long been a catalyst for economic development. You don’t have to look any farther than Indianapolis. Indy city leaders built the RCA Dome, Conseco Fieldhouse, and now Lucas Oil Stadium not just for the sports teams but to lure business, improve the economic climate downtown and create new business.

As the eyes of the soccer world look to South Africa, the South African wine industry is trying to capitalize on all of the attention.

Wine production dates back to at least the 1600s but the years of apartheid stymied any international expansion. Right now South African wines are one of the “hottest things” in the wine world.

The World Cup has been the necessary impetus to build the wine brand in South Africa and around the world. Project Laduma started in 2008 aiming to create 2010 wine stewards by this summer’s World Cup. The wine industry’s marketing arm, Wines of South Africa, came up with the job-creating idea to welcome World Cup guests.
WSA funded the drive by having members create specific red wines to be sold to finance the steward training. The red wines sold to the consumer at the $15-$20 price point. About half of the 2,000 workers were identified as restaurant workers but the other half came from the nation’s unemployed.

But the country hasn’t been looking inward only. South Africa exports more than 10 million gallons of wine annually. Nearly 300,000 people are employed in the wine industry. The country produces less than four percent of the world’s wine, ranking it eighth in overall volume.

The country has nine wine regions with the most recognized being Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Constantia. The country grows a lot of Cabernet, Shiraz, and Pinot Noir. Riesling, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc are also plentiful. Chenin Blanc, sometimes called Steen, is the most widely grown grape in the Cape region. It is often cited as South Africa’s best white.

South Africa’s signature grape is Pinotage. It’s one wine many people have heard of and perhaps never tried. It is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. The Cinsaut grape normally adds a certain softness and fragrant nose to wine. Pinotage dates back to 1925 and has had its ups and downs. It’s not the most widely planted grape but it is South African’s best known original.

The wine has smoky, earthy, tones that are usually quite smooth. As a point of reference, I’d compare the taste of Pinotage to France’s Gamay grape. Gamay is the grape behind Beaujolais wines.

Now a bit of advice before you rush off to the wine shop, ask for advice. I had not purchased much South African wine before preparing to write this column. My purchases were hit and miss. Fairview is a big and consistent producer. Other names to look for are Neil Ellis, Nederburg, Ken Forrester, Kanonkop, and De Wetshof Estate. Those are just a very few.

Howard’s Pick:
Nederburg 2007 Pinotage:
A beautiful, deep purple wine that has great dark fruit on the front of the palate, a solid mid plate that will keep you interested, and a little bit of oak on the finish for a well-balanced wine! Nederburg makes a very drinkable introduction to South African wines. You can find this bottling at many places in Indiana at $10-$14 a bottle.

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