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Wine region draws tourists, tasters to South Africa
PAARL, South Africa (CNN) -- One of South Africa's oldest industries is drawing new attention. Visitors are pouring into the country's wine region to sample a product that's gaining fans around the world.
Mild weather and moderate amounts of rain make a perfect climate for South Africa's lush, sprawling vineyards. And with close to 200 wineries, connoisseurs and curious visitors have plenty of options. Wine country tours are now one of South Africa's top ten tourist draws.
Fairview Estate in Paarl has plenty to tickle the tastebuds during its harvest season, which runs from the last week in January to the middle of March.
"We produce a wide range of wines, starting from crisp, dry white tank-fermented styles to full-bodied Chardonnay barrel-ferments, and an entire range of red wines starting with Gamay and ending with Cabernet," says owner Charles Back.
Wine isn't the only product Fairview produces, though. The estate is home to 600 milking goats -- its goat tower is something of a trademark -- and visitors to the tasting room also get to sample a variety of estate-made cheeses.
Progress on several fronts
Wine making is a centuries-old tradition in South Africa -- introduced by the Dutch in the mid-1600s. But during apartheid, the industry suffered. The nation's wine technology lagged behind that of other countries and there were no black winery owners.
That's slowly changing at vineyards like Fairview and Nederburg.
"It's important for the wine industry to be sustainable, to have more black and colored people enter into the arena, and I think that is a reflection on our country in its entirety," Back says.
At Fairview, Awie Adolf and other black workers now own some of the land and are making and selling their own labels internationally.
"I'm very proud of the new wine we make," Adolf says.
The change in race relations has brought about a new thirst for the country's wines.
"I think we are really happy with the status of our wines worldwide," says Christi Els, an adviser at Nederburg, "because in the dark days when there were sanctions against us, we couldn't export a great deal of our wine. But since our country has opened up, so have markets for us."
High-tech innovations are also boosting the industry. Workers now run bustling assembly lines that bottle and box Nederburg's red, white and sparkling wines.
South African vintages are now competing with well-known wines from around the world.
Pinotage is one variety that's very popular -- and purely South African. The grape was developed in 1925 by crossing pinot noir with cinsault grapes.
It and other South African wines are available at bargain prices at Vaughn Johnson's Wine and Cigar Shop in nearby Cape Town, a 40-minute drive from Paarl.
"We've created a range of wines called the 'Everyday Cape Wines' which are our biggest sellers because they sell for $2 a bottle," explains owner Vaughn Johnson.
Not a bad deal for one of South Africa's most popular souvenirs.
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