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South African Wine Production Triples in Decade


South Africa has been producing wine since the first Europeans settled on its southern tip 350 years ago. In the past decade, the industry has become more export-driven and has grown three-fold to become the ninth largest in the world. Despite the advances, some South African winemakers prefer to stay small, making boutique wines with distinct character. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from one of these, the Joubert-Tradauw Cellar in Bradyville, 250 kilometers northeast of Cape Town.

It is just after dawn in South Africa's Klein Karoo. It is late in the season and the other vineyards have finished their harvest.

But Meyer Joubert, third generation owner of the Joubert-Tradauw winery, likes to wait until the last minute, when the grapes are lush.

"Very ripe,” Joubert said. “You can see how the skin is breaking up. And the seeds, nice and brown. So yeah, sweet stuff. Flavor, you're looking for flavor, not only sweetness."

The vineyard has been producing grapes for more than 70 years. But Meyer Joubert only began making wine nine years ago after an apprenticeship in California. He uses old methods from France to make his boutique wines.

"Once the grapes arrive there, the basics, fermentation, is wild: no filtration, French oak barrels. It's a combination of many little things that gives us an edge, but mainly it is the atmosphere," Joubert said.

Joubert grows grapes on 40 hectares of irrigated land. Peaches and pears are grown on another 100 hectares. His cows produce milk for a local dairy and manure for his vineyards. Just about everything is grown organically.

The machine used to remove stems and crush the grapes is 70 years old. The winery produces 20,000 liters of wine a year, a tiny fraction of a $2 billion industry that produces 700 million liters a year and employs one-quarter million people.

The stainless steel vats are modern and clean although the method of stirring the grapes, called punching, is by hand.

After a few days in vats the grapes are loaded into this 40 year-old pressing machine which will extract the juice.

Joubert's son, Andries, looks like he will inherit the family business.

The extracted juice is pumped into tanks for about a week during which the sediment will settle and be separated.

The wine ages for about 18 months in oak barrels. Joubert regularly samples each batch.

When the wine is ready, it will be blended and bottled and inspected by a licensing board.

The family store sells wine, fruit products from the farm and tasty meals. Wine lovers can taste, and then buy a bottle for about ten dollars.

Joubert says one of the biggest challenges is selling the wine at a price that is reasonable but allows him to stay in business. Atmosphere is his selling point.

"What makes it different is, I think, there's a spirit, an atmosphere that makes it unique,” Joubert explains. “When you drive through South Africa, you come to a little place that has got its own character. It's a combination of many little things that gives us an edge, but mainly it is the atmosphere."

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