Visiting Elim
One of South Africa's coolest and newest wine regions

The last leg of this particular trip saw me heading south, to the southernmost tip of Africa itself. The Elim wine region is just 20 km from Cape Agulhas, and it’s an interesting place for growing wine grapes, with a chilly climate (by South African standards) and plenty of cooling breezes from the ocean.

Named after the town that was established as a Moravian Mission Station by German missionaries in 1824, Elim WO (Wine of Origin) is part of the Overberg wine district (in South Africa’s classification Elim is a ‘ward’ in the Overberg ‘district’). It’s one of the newest wine regions in the Western Cape.

The attraction of Elim for winegrowers is the cool climate, which makes it possible to produce styles of wine that have a point of difference to the warmer regions that predominate in the Western Cape. It means that growers can do well here with grape varieties suited to cooler growing temperatures. Elim competes with Elgin for the title of South Africa’s coldest wine region.

Indeed, one of the fascinations of wine is just how sensitive to small differences in temperature the grape vine is. No matter how good a winemaker you are, if you have the wrong variety planted in the wrong place, you’ll never be able to make great wine. It’s certainly possible to make good commercial wines from slightly misplaced varieties, but if you want to go beyond the ordinary, the careful matching of variety to site is essential. This was the motivation for the pioneers of this new region: to find a cool area where varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir could produce something exceptional. 

But there’s a risk that comes from working in cooler regions. Grape varieties excel when they are being grown at their limits; at temperatures where they will just ripen enough, but not too much. A strong nerve is required on the part of the winegrower, though, because at extremes like this, some seasons will just be too cold to get proper ripening. And in the case of Elim, the cooling breezes can translate into damaging winds, which retard vine growth and cause particular problems for young vines. Another problem faced by the Elim growers is the fact that this is quite a damp region, by South Africa’s standards, which means increased pressure from fungal diseases. 

The soil types here are interesting, because of their variation over even quite small distances. The dominant soil is called koffieklip (coffee stone), and it’s quite distinctive. It consists of lumps of iron-rich clay cementing together smaller stones, and it is actually pretty soft: you can usually break it apart with your bare hands. There’s also shale, which looks quite like slate, and some granite and quartzite. 

I visited a group of five growers who together have collaborated to form the Elim Wine Growers, with the slogan ‘Real wine, Real people’.  These five are Strandveld, Black Oystercatcher, Berrio, Quoin Rock and Zoetendal. The slogan is appropriate: this is not a region for ‘lifestylers’ – people who’ve made a lot of money in business and want a hobby or retirement winery – it’s a place for real farmers. And it’s tremendously encouraging to see them work together in this genuinely collaborative spirit.


I’m pictured (above), with Francis Pratt (The Berrio), Dirk Human (Black Oystercatcher) and Johan de Kock (Zoetendal)

As well as taste wine, we took a drive through the vineyards, and then visited a joint conservation venture. These Elim growers have set aside 22 000 hectares from their farms to form the Nuwejaars Wetland Special Management Area initiative (, which has been restored to pristine fynbos, with clearing of invasive alien plants. They also have some red hartebeest, and have a disease-free buffalo breeding program.

The wineries and their wines:

Black Oystercatcher
The Berrio
Quoin Rock
Photos from Elim

See also:

South Africa revisited (series)

Wines tasted 10/10
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