Chenin Blanc is a torchbearer and signature for South African white wine

Chenin is raking in awards, locally and abroad, and moving the South African wine industry forward, it would seem as if there is more momentum than ever and the Chenin star is shining bright! Amongst a spate of new releases, and some very exciting wines, Chenin is clearly the basis of a new found quality white wine segment.

South Africa is the premiere source for world-class Chenin Blanc in all its celebrated expressions with more plantings than the rest of the world combined, a whopping 17 934 hectares! (Twice as much as the Loire Valley) Of these plantings more than 11 000 ha are older than 11 years and 6 468 ha of these 11 000 ha are older than 20 years. Known for its elegance and natural acidity that retains its freshness and focus, Chenin Blanc is particularly suited for a wide range of diverse terroirs found in South Africa.

Sales of Chenin Blanc have increased steadily since 2010 and currently show a 47% increase, across multiple price points. As the world looks to more aromatic white wines, Chenin has found its niche and today Chenin is ably represented as the go to white wine from South Africa.

Exports of Chenin Blanc have also increased over the past five years from 19,463,833 litres in 2000 to 43,657,744 litres in 2014 with Germany, the UK and Sweden South Africa’s biggest markets.

“This grape variety is produced in a range of styles, reflecting diverse terroirs and the versatile nature of the grape,” says Chenin Blanc Association Chairman Ken Forrester. “Chenin offers wine lovers the body and texture they enjoy, as well as an aromatic generosity and a freshness so many wine consumers crave. We honestly believe Chenin Blanc has the ability to be our national flagship.”

To celebrate Chenin’s popularity among consumers, #DrinkChenin day was introduced and this year South Africa joined for the first time to give this event a global presence. The day is meant to bring Chenin Blanc to the centre of the conversation and into the minds of the wine-buying public with events ranging from featured pours, bottles and flights of Chenin at restaurants and wine shops and special tastings to complete Chenin takeovers of wine menus.

Behind the scenes

Chenin Blanc has in recent years excelled through the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge, a competition dedicated to Chenin that benefits all local producers, their workforce and consumers alike. This competition gives recognition to how far Chenin has come in South Africa, it reinforces the economic and social benefits in the workplace to the workforce and offers consumers a glimpse of the best of the best.

Chenin Blanc will also be in the spotlight during this years’ annual Diners Club Winemaker of The Year competition. This prestigious competition, held since 1981, encourages local winemakers to raise the standard of wines produced in South Africa. With Chenin as focus, this year will most definitely see some of the best Chenin Blancs South Africa has to offer.

With the #InnerCityWineRoute, an epic midweek wine tasting adventure in Cape Town at some of the hippest inner city venues, Chenin Blanc and the talented Chenin winemakers was showcased by the CBA during the month of April, May and June. These tastings resulted in hundreds of new Chenin lovers.

The importance of Chenin Blanc in the industry however, does not only show in the awards the wines are raking in, but also through research projects. Since 2010 the Institute for Wine Biotechnology and the Sensory Research Unit of the Department of Food Science, Stellenbosch University, in collaboration with the Chenin Blanc Association (CBA) of South Africa, joined forces with ongoing research projects on this variety.

A research project also started in late 2014 on quality and sensory aspects of older vines (older than 40 years). This project is continuing in 2016 and focused additional studies on characteristics of specific vineyard blocks of interest, and the effects of specific viticultural and winemaking practices are on the research agenda. In-depth chemical profiling of old vine Chenin Blanc wines and components associated with mouthfeel and aroma is also being done.

Other research projects involving Chenin Blanc include a multicultural wine quality perception profiling; an investigation into consumer perceptions, familiarity and involvement/consumption of different Chenin Blanc wine styles; as well as modelling consumer risk behaviour during wine decision-making: marketing insights for Chenin Blanc.

“There is no doubt that Chenin has come into its own,” says Forrester. “Chenin has earned its stripes from the Northern Cape to Stellenbosch and from the Swartland to Robertson. With an increase in new plantings, a new enthusiasm for this variety can clearly been seen. And with older vines proving their worth and winemakers now more than ever in touch with Chenin, the future of Chenin Blanc is extremely exciting.”