South African Brandy
South Africa is the major non-European brandy producer.
South Africa's brandy history dates back to 1672, when the country's first brandy was distilled. As a major maritime presence, the Dutch first settled in the Cape in 1652 with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck.
The word brandy derives from the Dutch word "brandewijn" or literally, "burnt" or "distilled wine."
As is the case in many of life's instances, distillation of brandy evolved out of necessity. Back in those days, natural wine would spoil after a few months, so distilling wine into brandy was introduced to prolong its life.
In Europe, legislation dictates that any spirit labelled as a brandy be grape-based (as opposed to fruit-based) and aged for a minimum of six months in oak.
In South Africa, legislation requires that all brandies be aged for a minimum of three years.
20% of our Vineyards are Chenin Blanc, of which large proportion of the wine is distilled to make our well known brandy. South Africa produces both standard brandy (a brandy and coke is a popular drink amongst South Africans) and Pot-Still brandy (similar to Cognac) and it can make an exciting change to try some of our quality brands.
Vintage brandy which is a blend of a minimum 30% of pot still brandy (aged a minimum 3 years) and a maximum of 70% of continous still product (aged a minimum of 8 years). In addition there is a limit on the size of the oak casks using for the ageing.
Pot still brandy must contain at least 90% distillate from a pot still. The rest is reserved for additives and distilled water. Minimum ageing is 3 years.
The South African brandies are characterized by a very rich aromas and high quality.
The first step in brandy-making is similar to that of winemaking: the grapes are harvested only at the optimum degree of ripeness and thereafter destalked and crushed. The juice that separates from the pips (seeds) and pulp is fermented to become wine. The young wine is then distilled twice in copper potstills.
Because water boils at 100 degrees C and alcohol at 78.3 degrees C, it is the alcoholic vapours that are the first to be released during distillation. They are then trapped, cooled and condensed. Each distillation process is comprised of various stages that produces a head, heart and tail. It is only the liquid produced during the heart stage that is used to make the brandy; the rest--the head and tail--are discarded. And since the distillation is repeated twice, you can imagine how intensely concentrated and flavourful the resulting alcoholic liquid is at the end of the process.
The different regions
An approximate 40 minute drive from Cape Town, Stellenbosch is a University town situated in the heart of the Stellenbosch wine region. In 1679, the newly appointed Governor of The Cape travelled inland for 5 days until he discovered this area of paradise.
Nestled in the Drakenstein mountains, the region was originally called Oliphantshoek due to the elephants which roamed the area. In 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes which led to the persecution of the French Protestants (also known as Hugenots), and many fled to different parts of Europe. The Dutch East India Company, knew that extra labour was required in the Cape, so in 1688, 150 French Hugenots arrived and settled in this region. The area was then re-named Franschhoek (translates to French corner).