Wine of Origin: a scheme to promote trust
Every wine produced in South Africa is subject to certification under the Wine of Origin scheme.
Far from being some arbitrary administrative invention, the scheme offers wine buyers independent assurance – enshrined in law – that the claims on a wine label are true of the contents. It is largely taken for granted these days, but there once was a time when you just couldn’t be sure.
In those days, a producer could claim anything. The downside was that industry could never hope to win the trust of wine consumers. Over time, wine producers and industry colleagues came to realise the problem could be addressed through legislated regulation and so the idea for a new system was born.
South Africa’s Wine of Origin scheme was established in 1972 and organised the certification of wine origins as well as cultivars and vintages. It operates under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture.
It certainly is not the first of its kind, but in many ways, improved on origin control systems that had been in place in traditional wine countries such as Portugal, France and Italy for centuries.
The basis for the scheme concerns two central factors that determine the character and quality of wine: nature (soil, climate and location) and human interactions (cultivar choice, viticultural practices, and winemaking techniques).
Of these, nature is considered the more important because it is generally recognised as having the greater influence. Nature is the reason vine and grape varieties perform differently in different locations because of for example, the effect of different temperatures, levels of sunlight and types of soils on the plants. As a result, wines differ from region to region and some cultivars perform better in certain locations than others.
Stellenbosch, for example, is often associated with excellent Cabernet Sauvignon.
When the term Wine of Origin or WO appears together with the name of a production area, such as Stellenbosch or Paarl on a label, it confirms that 100% of the grapes from which the wine is made, comes from that specific area.
Scheme also makes provision for the defining of geographical regions as well as approved cultivars.
The scheme is administered by the Wine and Spirit Board, whose primary functions also extend to other areas of the industry including Estate Brandy; Integrated Production of Wine, for making quality fruit and wine in an environmentally friendly manner; and, liaising with government officials.
The Wine of Origin scheme may go unnoticed for many, but it’s certainly something you’ll appreciate next time you open a bottle of your favourite wine.