The Cape Winelands region is located in the Western Cape. It is the southwestern most province in South Africa and includes the fabled Cape of Good Hope. The province is flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the Indian Ocean in the south. Generally speaking, the climate is classic Mediterranean: mild, wet winters and long hot days with evenings cooled by ocean breezes and billowing fog during the growing season. The climate is much like parts of France and northern California. The mountain ranges throughout the Winelands area create a stunning backdrop for the hillside and valley vineyards.
The Western Cape is divided into regions, which are subdivided into districts, which are further parsed into wards. There are four principal regions, 13 districts and 50 wards. Though the ward designation is important in defining the character of the wine, which is naturally affected by the terroir of the area, wines are often colloquially referred to by their district, rather than ward designation.
The Coastal Region, as its name might suggest, is comprised of districts that border both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts. It is the most fertile of the regions and the best known for excellent table wines. Stellenbosch, which sits on False Bay, is arguably the most well-known district and the best for red wine, notably Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon. Paarl, about 40 minutes inland, and protected by mountains, is fast becoming known for its rich, earthy Rhône-style Shiraz, though most noble varietals do well here. The granite hillsides, which host many of the vineyards, add depth and flintiness to the wines. Franschhoek, literally, the French Corner, where the French Huguenots originally settled, is a ward in the southeast corner of Paarl that produces elegant tropical Sauvignon Blancs, amongst others varietals.
The Cape Point Region hosts Constantia, home to the first winery established in South Africa. The south-facing hillside vineyards enjoy morning sun and cooling breezes from the Indian Ocean less than eight kilometers away. It is at the tip of Cape Point where it is said that the Atlantic and Indian oceans first meet. Swartland covers a large swath of land on the Atlantic seaboard and cool ocean air means crisp, intense whites and elegant lighter reds. This is one of the areas that is successfully producing Pinot Noir, a varietal that has been elusive for South African winemakers.
The Breed River Valley is home to the Robertson and Worcester districts. Robertson, originally principally planted with Chenin Blanc, has recently become known for elegant Burgundian-style Chardonnay, Sancerre-style Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. The principal soil types are limestone on the hillsides, clay on the valley floor and alluvial sand at the river bed, all giving distinctive characteristics to the wines. The general climate is like that of the Carneros region in California. Worcester is one of the most densely planted districts and is planted primarily with Chenin Blanc and other grapes used in the making of fortified wines, as well as some table grapes.