Nebbiolo is a red grape variety associated with some of the world’s best aged red wines. 

Nebbiolo grapes in South Africa.

It seems to have derived its name from the Italian word, nebula, meaning mist or fog, either because it ripens relatively late when the autumn mists starts to appear in Italy, or because of the white misty bloom that appears on the skin of the grapes when the berries are ripe. Nebbiolo seems to be an offspring of the Italian variety Freisa, but the identify of the other parent is still uncertain. It also seems to be a close cousin of Viognier.


According to DNA analysis, Nebbiolo most likely originated in Piedmont or the Valtellina zone in northwest Italy. It is one of the oldest varieties grown in Italy, with the mention of the variety being recorded in the State Archive of Torino around the middle of the thirteenth Century.

It is speculated that Nebbiolo is the same variety referred to as Spionia, by the Roman author, Pliney the Elder in his book Naturalis Historiae, back in 1 AD. Piedmont has over the years built a reputation for its Barolo and Barbaresco wine, which is exclusively made from Nebbiolo grapes cultivated in certain designated villages in the region.

During the 15th Century, Nebbiolo enjoyed such high esteem in the Barola villages, known as La Morra back then, that damage or the cutting down of one of these vines could be punished by the loss of right hand or even hanging. The Barola and Barbaresco, over the years, have been dubbed the “wine of kings and king of wines” in Italy. In the past, the wine has often been misunderstood when it is drunk too early. A good Barolo, however, has to be aged for at least twelve years to unlock its real potential.

It is also notoriously difficult to produce, with some people jesting that Nebbiolo production should only be attempted by wine makers who have mastered the art of producing the just as challenging variety, Pinot noir.

Other names

It is also known as Chiavennasca, Picutener, Spanna and Nibeul.

Production in South Africa

The first clone seemed to have been imported from Italy by prof Abraham Izak Perold around 1910. More promising clones were imported by Vititec between 1990 and 1995. Steenberg Winery of Constantia seems to have been the first farm to produce a single varietal Nebbiolo in the 1990s.

Production regions

Production in South Africa is miniscule, with fewer than 25 ha being recorded in 2016. Most of these vineyards are located in the Breedekloof, Stellenbosch and Cape South Coast, while the Paarl, the Klein Karoo and Northern Cape also have small areas under production.


The variety favours cool climatic conditions. It is extremely vigorous, with an average production of 12 t/ha to 18 t/ha.


It ripens early mid-season, from the first half of February.


The variety produces medium sized, big, round to short oval berries with a red violet that turns black when fully ripe. The skin is thin and tough, while the flesh is juicy and fruity.


Nebbiolo ’s dark green leaves are a small to medium size, round to slightly oblong and five lobed.

Pests and diseases

It is susceptible to downy mildew, powdery mildew and sunburn. Rain during the harvest season may also cause botrytis rot.


The small volumes produced in South Africa are used in blends and as single varietal wines.


The variety is one of the few that can be identified based on its colour, with the blackish ruby wine developing an orange tinge around the rim. The clones that are available in South Africa produce strong fruity and berry flavours.