“Many of the finest and (now) most admired South African wines are based on chenin blanc,” says influential UK critic Jancis Robinson MW. She also highlights the varietal’s sound ageing potential, asserting in a recent Financial Times article on chenin blanc that “with time it can hold its own with the finest white wines”.
Her affirmation coincides with another feature on old-vine chenins in another UK publication, Decanter, in which Christian Eedes calls these “arguably South Africa’s greatest vinous asset”.
“It’s a great time for making chenin,” says Ken Forrester, co-founder and chair of the Chenin Blanc Association (CBA). “The grape continues to play a key role in building South Africa’s ever-rising reputation as a source of excellent, exciting and age-worthy wines.
“Export sales values of packaged chenins rose 21% year-on-year for the 12 months to April 2021. This was despite an export ban and the shipping logjams that followed, a performance that certainly demonstrates market-resilience. Chenin now accounts for 14% of total volumes exported. This is the biggest share of any category, with sauvignon blanc following at 12%.
“Domestically, for the first quarter of this year compared with 2020, chenin blanc’s biggest growth occurred in the price band of R90 to R99 a bottle. That tells you South Africans are also very much recognising its worth.”
Forrester believes the positive attention accorded South African chenin blanc will also ensure the success of the global summit on the variety to be hosted by the CBA in November 2022.
South Africa grows more chenin blanc than the rest of the world combined. It is the country’s most populous grape, accounting for 18,5% of the national vineyard that totals just over 92 000 hectares, with Breedekloof currently the biggest player, says Forrester.
“Really encouraging is that across the board we are witnessing the preservation of older vines, both for their vinous and income-earning potential. There is a rising number of vines between 16 and 20 years old, an indication that growers are keen to protect what has become an important South African legacy.”