History of Wine in South Africa

South Africa is a diverse nation with many cultures and traditions. Nicknamed the Rainbow Nation, it is this diversity that attracts people from all over the world to experience the splendidly rich heritage. One of the most famous aspects of tourism in South Africa is none other than the famous South African wine route. This country is in fact the 8th largest producer of wine in the world offering easy drinking wines that represent those from France, Germany and Italy. Much of the landscape in the Western Cape Province of South Africa is made up of vineyards draping the mountainsides and hugging the coastlines.

The History of Wine in South Africa

With the arrival of the Dutch East India Company led by Jan Van Riebeeck in 1652, so the land was divided into farms. He recorded that the first wine was produced in the Cape, where they had landed on the 2nd February 1659. This was the beginning of a prosperous industry that is still uplifting the economy to this day.

In 1679, Simon Van der Stel replaced Van Riebeeck as the commander of the Cape. It was later in that year that he founded the town of Stellenbosch, which is one of the most popular wine areas to visit. After the arrival of the Huguenots from France in 1688, Simon Van der Stel retires to his homestead in Constantia, named Groot Constantia, which is frequently visited by tourists today. The wine cellars are still in use and the wine production here is some of the best in the country. As the Huguenot settlers established themselves in the beautiful Franschhoek Valley, so the production of wine began there too.

The first exports of wine from South Africa were very modest ones from the Constantia organized by Van der Stel’s son, Willem Adriaan. Later on in 1761 and 1762 the exports of red and white wine began to be noticed by the European market.

The Cape wine industry was beginning to flourish and during the occupation of the Cape by the British, huge amounts of Cape wine were sold in Britain. However, soon after the discovery of phylloxera in vineyards in France, the Cape was also hit with the disease in 1885. In 1906, the wine farms started to realize the importance of wine making to the South African economy and some formed co-operatives. The first one to form was Drostdy in Tulbagh.

Soon there was an overproduction in wine which resulted in large quantities being wasted, but in 1918 the famous brand KWV was formed. They were given the power to set a minimum price for distilling wines. You will find the original KWV co-op in Worcester along the Cape Wine Route.

A breakthrough in the South African Wine Industry occurred in 1925 when a Professor Perold successfully crossed the Pinot Noir grape and Cinsault grape to develop the first Pinotage cultivar which was eventually perfected and first bottled in 1961. This is still the most successful export to this day, as it is an original South African creation.

Also in 1925 the Stellenbosch Farmer’s Winery was formed and in 2001 merged with the Distillers Corporation. Today, Distell, as it is now called, is the largest international distributor raking in around $234.8 million in sales.