Wine Geo: What (exactly) is a Cape?

The impressive cliffs of Cape Horn

Cape Canaveral, Cabo San Lucas, Cape Cod…we’ve heard of them all, we’ve visited some of them…but do we really know what a cape is?

Geographically speaking, a cape is a narrow point of land—usually quite high and rugged—that extends into a body of water. Capes can be part of a large land mass (such as Cape Finisterre in Galicia and the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa ) or part of an island (such as Cape Hatteras in North Carolina).

Technically, a cape is a peninsula (although geography geeks may argue that a cape is smaller). Other terms that may be used to describe a cape include headland (a cape is often defined as a large headland), bluff (geographers will say a bluff is typically rounded via erosion, whereas a cape is jagged), or promontory (a more general term that also includes raised lands surrounded by lowlands).

All is well at Cape Foulwind

Terroir-derived benefits of a cape—a rugged spot perched high above the surrounding waters—are likely to include the following: include typically cool, maritime climate; low risk of frost; moderate elevation and slope; aspect; and well-drained (often rocky and infertile) soil.

The concept of the cape is woven into the language of wine. South Africa, for instance, contains at least six wine regions that are so designated, including the Western Cape, Cape South Coast, Cape Agulhas, Cape Town, Eastern Cape, and Northern Cape—all official geographical indications for South African Wine

Here are a few more capes that should be well-known to wine lovers:  

  • The Cape May Peninsula AVA: located in southern New Jersey and to date, the only AVA with the word “cape” in the name.
  • Cape Kidnappers: best story ever and part of New Zealand’s Hawks Bay GI.
  • Cape of Good Hope: part of South Africa’s Cape Town GI, often thought to be the southernmost point in Africa—but that award goes to Cape Agulhas, located on the other side of False Bay.
  • Cabo da Roca: the western-most point of continental Europe and part of Portugal’s Colares DOC.
  • Cape Naturaliste, Cape Leeuwin, Cape Hamelin, Cape Freychinet, and Cape Mentelle: all are located within Western Australia’s Margaret River GI, several will sound familiar for their namesake wine estates.

View from the Cape of Good Hope

Beyond the world of wine, famous capes include the following:

  • Cabo San Lucas: Baja California’s famous beach resort area
  • Cape Fear: located off the coast of North Carolina’s Bald Head Island, also a scary movie.
  • Cape Canaveral: on Florida’s Atlantic coast, part of the Space Coast, famous site for launching spacecraft.
  • Cape Cod: famous beach town located off the southeast coast of Massachusetts, technically a series of glacier-formed islands that have experienced significant erosion.
  • Cape Foulwind: located on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, and so named after Captain James Cook’s ship was blown far off course from this point. It had previously been known as Rocky Point.
  • Cape Horn: the often-frozen southern edge of Chile’s Tierra del Fuego archipelago, close to the southernmost point of South America, intrepid sailors can slip through Drake’s Passage and brag about rounding the horn.
  • Cape Finisterre: the western-most point on the Camino de Santiago; during Roman times the land was literally believed to be the edge of the known world; the term derives from the Latin finis terrae (end of the earth).

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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