Worcester is a significant wine-producing district 60 miles west of Cape Town in the Breede River Valley. Known for its substantial volume contribution to the country’s wine production, Worcester accounts for approximately a quarter of all the wines produced in South Africa. This is because the district is home to many cooperative estates.
Worcester has a historical significance dating back to the late 17th Century when it served as a hunting ground due to the abundance of wildlife. European livestock farming eventually led to the establishment of the town in the 1830s, making it the commercial heart of the district. German settlers arrived in the mid-19th Century and played a vital role in cultivating the land, including bringing about vineyards and orchards.
The district of Worcester comprises several wards, including Nuy, Scherpenheuval, Stettyn, and the elevated Hex River Valley. Aside from wine production, the Hex River Valley is renowned for its substantial cultivation of table grapes, producing nearly 90,000 tons annually. South Africa is a major producer for table grapes for the rest of the world. Worcester is also recognized for its brandy production, with the KWV (LINK TO BLOG) based here, which serves as the largest brandy distillery in the southern hemisphere.
In Worcester, a wide range of grape varieties are cultivated, with notable emphasis on Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Colombar for whites; with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinotage for reds.
The location of Worcester offers natural protection from extreme weather conditions due to the surrounding mountain ranges. The Hex River and Langeberg Mountains form the northern border, while the Boland and Riviersonderend Mountains create a southern boundary, separating Worcester from other notable wine regions such as Stellenbosch and Walker Bay.
Worcester experiences a hot climate, with average summer temperatures often exceeding 85°F. The area benefits from cooling south-easterly breezes that originate from the Indian Ocean, located approximately 60 miles away. These breezes provide relief and moisture to the vineyards. Although irrigation is necessary due to low rainfall, the nearby Brandvlei Dam ensures an ample water supply for the widely used drip irrigation method.
The soils in Worcester exhibit significant variations, resulting in diverse wine styles. The gently rolling valley floor is ideal for most of the grape cultivation, while vineyards planted on the surrounding mountain slopes produce higher-quality wines. The well-drained soils contribute to lower grape yields and enhanced fruit concentration, resulting in wines with complex flavors and rich profiles.