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The History of Wine Making in South Africa
A historical chronology of events and influences
  • 1652 The Dutch East India Company (Jan Van Riebeeck and his party) establish the first european settlement at the Cape Of Good Hope .
  • 1657 First Free Burgher farmers released from Company service to work their own land.
  • 1659 February 2, Van Riebeeck records the making of the first wine at the Cape .
  • 1662 Van Riebeeck leaves the Cape for the East Indies .
  • 1679 Appointment of Simon van der Stel as Commander of the Settlement. Later in the same year, his foundation of the town of Stellenbosch .
  • 1688 Arrival of the first Huguenot immigrants.
  • 1699 Simon van der Stel retires to his estate at Constantia. His son, Willem Adriaan van der Stel takes his place as Governor. The first modest exports of wine from the Cape take place.
  • 1708 Willem Adriaan departs to exile in Holland
  • 1761/2 The first notable exports of red and white Contantia wine takes place.
  • 1778 Groot Constantia is acquired by the Cloete family. The following decades see the sweet Contantia wine winning acclaim throughout Europe .
  • 1795 The first British occupation of the Cape .
  • 1802 The end of the first British occupation of the Cape .
  • 1806 The Battle of Blaauwberg and the start of the second British occupation of the Cape .
  • 1811 Quality control instituted by the British authorities in the Cape on wines exported from the Colony.
  • 1825 The British Government imposes heavy tariifs on the importation of French wines and sales of Cape wine in Britain increase rapidly.
  • 1834 Emancipation of slaves and the start of the Great Trek.
  • 1860 First appearance of the phylloxera epidemic in the French vineyards.
  • 1861 Palmerston Government reduces tariffs on French wine imports which had protected the Cape wine market.
  • 1863 Louis Pastuer's investigations into the diseases of wine in France .
  • 1885 The appearance of phylloxera in the Cape vineyards.
  • 1886 Discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand.
  • 1899 Start of the Second Anglo-Boer war.
  • 1906 Formation of the first SA wine co-operatives, the first being the Drostdy in Tulbagh.
  • 1909 Overproduction causes a slump in wine prices to an all-time low.
  • 1910 The Union of South Africa is established.
  • 1918 Serious over-production leads to great quantities of unsaleable wine being poured down the drain. The KWV is formed.
  • 1924 KWV is empowered to fix the minimum price for distilling wine.
  • 1925 Professor Perold crosses various vines which eventually give rise to the first specimens of the Pinotage cultivar.
  • 1935 Formation of the Stellenbosch Farmers' Winery (SFW)
  • 1940 KWV empowered to fix the minimum price for good wine.
  • 1945 Formation of the Distillers Corporation. The years following the Second World War see the further development of cold fermentation which gives impetus to the production of quality white wines.
  • 1948 The National Party comes to power. Start of the Apartheid policy.
  • 1950 Gilbeys (SA) formed.
  • 1955 Oenological and Viticultural Research Institute established at Nietvoorbij outside Stellenbosch.
  • 1961 First bottled pinotage appears. First Lieberstein marketed.
  • 1965 Amalgamation of Stellenbosch Farmers' Winery, Monis of Paarl and Nederburg.
  • 1971 Stellenbosch Wine Route opened.
  • 1973 South African Wine of Origin (bus tickets) legislation is implemented.
  • 1975 First auction of rare Cape wines at Nederburg.
  • 1979 Formation of Cape Wine and Distillers.
  • 1980 The newly formed Cape Wine Academy begins courses for the trade and public.
  • 1983 The Mouton Commission recommends a less monopolistic structure for the wine industry, but this is not accepted by the Government.
  • 1991(?) Wine of origin legislation is changed.
  • 1994 April 27, End of apartheid era! More free trade?

Continuation from:

•  1995 The Pinotage Association was formed. KWV International was founded.

  • 1996 Stellenbosch Vineyards (Pty) Ltd was founded.

•  1997 KWV Registered as a private company on 01 December. ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij was founded.

•  1998 The new Liquor Bill, a three-tier system, was approved by parliament. The CWA was registered in an independent Trust.

•  1999 The new Liquor Bill rejected as unconstitutional and referred back to parliament for amendment. The South African Wine Industry Trust (SAWIT) was established to advance the transformation of the wine industry and promote exports.

•  2000 The inaugural Cape Wine 2000, showcasing South African wines, was held. SAWSEA was renamed Wines of South Africa (WOSA). An independent, non-profit company representing all exporters of South African wines, its aim is to build Brand South Africa internationally. The Chenin Blanc Association was formed. SFW and Distillers Corporation merged to form one company, Distell.

•  2001 The Muscadel Association was formed.

•  2002 Cape Wine 2002 - a major success for the South African wine industry. Joint venture between Australia 's BRL Hardy and Stellenbosch Vineyards (SV) was announced - a first for the local industry. The SA Wine Industry Ethical Trading Association (WIETA) was established. The Shiraz Association was formed. The KWV split into two separate entities: a commercial company, KWV Limited, and Wijngaard Co-operative, which provides services to and looks after the interests of producers. White wines were bottled under screwcaps by several South African producers. The CWA was transferred by Distell to an independent group of management specialists called pointBreak. The South African Wine and Brandy Company (SAWB) was formed.

•  2003 The Wine Industry Plan (WIP) was made available as a discussion document.

•  2004 Cape Wine 2004 was held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC); a resounding success, it attracted wine media and buyers from across the country and around the globe . Vinfruco and Stellenbosch Vineyards merged to form a new company, Omnia Wines, one of the largest producers in South Africa .

•  2005 The CWA was acquired from pointBreak by a consortium which included a 25% holding by the CWA management with the remaining 75% being made up of an empowerment group and a cross-section of wine industry players. First bottled Nouvelle launched by Boland Kelder.

Some Statistics

  •   Currently 110 200 hectares of vines producing wine grapes are under cultivation in South Africa over an area some 800 kilometres in length. However, of these 11 595 hectares are under sultanas, used only for distilling wine for brandy. White varietals constitute 55% of the plantings for wine, with Chenin Blanc plantings comprising 20% of the total. Red varietals account for 45% of the national vineyard. The most widely planted red varietal is Cabernet Sauvignon, accounting for 15% of the total. Shiraz now accounts for 9%, while Pinotage, which is indigenous to South Africa , and Merlot each represent 7%.
  • The local wine industry as a whole is strengthening its focus on five noble varietals and is primarily replanting, on a large scale, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz , and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. In line with shifting market demands and the growth of red wine consumption, the industry rapidly increased its plantings of red wine varietals, which in 2000 and 2001 constituted over 80% of all new plantings. This fell to 65% in 2002 and to 51% in 2003.
  • In 1999, plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon increased by 82% on the previous year's figures and by 31% in 2000. The most dramatic growth has been in the plantings of Shiraz . This was the number one variety planted in 1999 and 2000. In 2003, Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for 40,5% of all red wine varieties planted. At the same time, lesser white varieties are being uprooted and replanted to noble varietals. Over 2 800 hectares of white wine vineyards were uprooted in 2003, representing 73% of all vines uprooted that year.
  • Some 257 000 people are employed both directly and indirectly in the wine industry, including farm labourers, those involved in packaging, retailing and wine tourism. Wine tourism employs over 59 000 of these people. According to a study, commissioned by the SA Wine Industry Information & Systems (SAWIS), a body supplying data to the local wine industry and conducted in 2004, the wine industry contributes 8,2% to the Western Cape's gross geographic product (GGP). The study also concluded that of the R16,3 billion gross domestic product (GDP) contributed by the wine industry to the regional economy, some R4,2 billion was generated indirectly through wine-tourism activities centred in the winelands. About R11,4 billion eventually would remain in the Western Cape to the benefit of its residents.
  • In terms of world wine production, South Africa ranks as number nine in volume production of wine and produces 3,1% of the world's wine.
  • Of the country's total annual harvest of 956m litres in 2003, 75% was devoted to the making of good wine, 5% to brandy, 7% to grape concentrate and the balance to grape spirit.
  • Exports of natural (ie non-fortified) bottled wines for the 2003 calendar year reached 237,3m litres, an increase of 10% on the previous year. Red wine exports grew by 13% to account for 45% of all natural wines exported.
  • Varietals which showed the most export growth in the case of bottled wines during 2003 compared to the previous year were Shiraz , Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. (Reliable value statistics are not available.)

Wine growing areas

The Cape winelands stretch from the rugged mountains and multi-directional slopes of the coastal region to the open plains of the Little Karoo where viticulture takes place mainly in the riverine valleys. South Africa 's vineyards are mostly situated in the Western Cape near the coast. Rainfall on the coastal side, where fynbos and renosterveld vegetation flourish, measures up to 1 000 mm per year. Travel over the mountains into the hinterland and the rainfall decreases dramatically with the vegetation dominated by hardy succulents, cycads and aloes.

Currently around 110 200 ha of vines producing wine grapes are under cultivation over an area some 800 km in length. Under the auspices of the Wine of Origin Scheme, production zones in the Cape winelands are divided into officially demarcated regions, districts and wards. There are four main regions - Breede River Valley , Coastal, Little Karoo and Olifants River , encompassing 18 diverse districts and some 52 smaller wards including exciting new ones like Elim and Philadelphia .

Wine of Origin Production Areas

CAPE POINT . These promising vineyards, some of them a mere kilometer from the sea, are situated on the western edges of the Cape Peninsula . This cool-climate district is recognized for its Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Now the first red wine vineyards, planted at Red Hill bordering the Cape Point Nature Reserve, have come on stream.

CONSTANTIA. This historic valley was the site of Simon van der Stel's 17th-century wine farm and the source of the Constantia dessert wines which were world famous during the 18th century. There are only a handful of cellars in this premier ward and these continue the tradition of producing excellent wines from the classic European noble varieties. The vineyards cling to the eastern slopes of Constantiaberg, an extension of Table Mountain below which Cape Town and its suburbs spread out. The vines benefit from the cool sea breezes blowing in from False Bay some five to 10 kilometers away. The ward receives about 1 000mm of rain annually, making irrigation unnecessary, and has a mean February temperature of 20.6°C.

DARLING. In an area surrounded by quality vineyards, Darling, is playing an increasingly visible role, with its own wine route and several tourist attractions just an hour away from Cape Town . Although regionally part of the Swartland, Darling, now a demarcated district, is vastly different in terms of climate, favouring the cultivation of more delicate cultivars. The Groenekloof ward, which benefits from being closest to the cooling Atlantic , is known for the exceptional quality of its Sauvignon Blanc.

DURBANVILLE. The dry land vineyards of Durbanville, like those of Constantia, lie very close to Cape Town and border on the northern suburbs. Several estates and wineries, situated mainly on the rolling hill slopes with their various aspects and altitudes, continue to make a wide variety of wine styles. Wines from this ward attracting attention are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep soils, cooling sea breezes, night-time mists and close proximity to the ocean are beneficial factors when it comes to the quality of the grapes.

ELIM. The newest of the maritime vineyards, this standalone ward is situated around the village of Elim , a Moravian mission settlement near Africa 's southernmost point, Cape Agulhas . Founded in 1824, the entire picturesque village is a national monument. Strong, cooling winds are prevalent in summer, ensuring a very cool ripening season, perfect for Sauvignon Blanc and also promising for Semillon and Shiraz . Generating much interest in the wine lands, its still small hectarage shows great potential.

KLEIN KAROO . This semi-arid, elongated region stretches from Montagu, via higher-lying, cooler Barrydale towards Ladismith, Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn. It's known for relative extremes when it comes to soils and climate. The area is marked by a low and unreliable rainfall which averages only 200 mm per year. Viticulture takes place mainly in kloofs, valleys and riverine sites in a rugged mountainous landscape. Muscat cultivars flourish here and the area is known for its sweet wines. Calitzdorp is famous for its port-style wines and here you'll find plantings of Tinta Barocca, Touriga Nacional and, on a small scale, Souzao.

LOWER ORANGE . The most northerly winegrowing area in the Cape , it's also the fourth largest, totaling in excess of 15 000 hectares, which stretch in close proximity to the Orange River . Predominantly a white grape area, reds are being increasingly planted. The wine grape cultivars grown here are Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Chardonanay, Pinotage, Shiraz , Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Muscadel (both red and white) and Muscat d'Alexandrie.

Large trellising systems are employed in this region of which the hut, gable and T-trellises are the most in use. These create special microclimates which protect the grapes, allowing them to ripen away from exposure to the direct rays of the sun. Specific microclimates are created within vineyards located on the islands between the different streams of the Orange River where the close proximity to the water cools down the grapes to a considerable degree. The conditions contribute to creating climate pockets which are conducive to production of better quality wines. The styles of wine produced by the various wineries along the 350 km stretch of river differ singularly in style and flavour from the eastern to the western wineries.

OLIFANTS RIVER . This region stretches in a belt from north to south along the broad valley of the Olifants River . The summers in this valley range from relatively warm to cool compared with some of South Africa 's other wine areas and rainfall is low. Soils vary from sandy to red clay loams. With careful canopy management, which ensures grapes are shaded by the vines' leaves, combined with modern winemaking techniques, the Olifants River is emerging as a source of good, value-for-money wines with quality rapidly improving. The region incorporates several wards including cooler, higher-altitude Cederberg and Piekenierskloof.

OVERBERG. Newer viticulture areas have opened up in this cool southerly district. The high-lying Elgin ward, cradled in the sandstone Hottentots Holland Mountains , was traditionally an apple-growing region. Now wines showing exceptional fruit are produced here with Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Shiraz doing particularly well in this late-ripening cooler zone.

PAARL. About 50 km from Cape Town , Paarl is situated beneath a large granite outcrop formed by three rounded domes, the prominent one named Paarl (which means pearl) rock. This scenic town is home to the KWV and the venue for the world-renowned Nederburg Auction. The summers are long and warm, and rainfall enough to make irrigation advantageous only in exceptional circumstances. A large variety of grapes are grown in Paarl, of which Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Shiraz , Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc have the best potential.

The Paarl district includes the wards of Franschhoek , the ‘cuisine capital' of the Cape which has retained its French Huguenot character; Wellington, a burgeoning wine area which is producing some promising wines; and the newest wards, Simonsberg-Paarl, on the prime foothills of the Simonsberg, and Voor-Paardeberg.

The Franschhoek valley lies to the southeast of Paarl and is enclosed on three sides by towering mountains: the Groot Drakenstein and Franschhoek mountains which meet at the top of the valley and the Klein Drakenstein and Simonsberg Mountains , found further down towards Paarl. Streams from the higher peaks flow down to the valley floor where they converge to form the Berg River, fast-flowing in winter when snow caps the peaks and a mere stream in summer, fed by the Wemmershoek Dam.

Some of the Wellington wineries stretch over alluvial terraces towards the Swartland's rolling hills and wheat fields, while others are found in the foothills of the towering Hawequa Mountains , where folds and valleys create unique microclimates. Wellington , which supplies over 90% of the South African wine industry with cuttings, has some 30 grapevine nurseries, situated here due to the appropriate soils and warm summers. In winter, snow sometimes covers the mountain tops and night temperatures are generally cooler than at the coast some 60 km away.

PHILADELPHIA . A new ward north of Durbanville which also benefits from cooling Atlantic influences. The hilly terrain of this area means some of the vineyards are higher than usual, up to 260m above sea level. This facilitates a significant difference in day-night temperature and results in slower ripening. Some highly regarded Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots and red blends have already emerged from this promising appellation.

ROBERTSON. Dubbed the ‘valley of vines and roses', the Robertson district's lime-rich soils make the area eminently suitable for racehorse stud farming and also, of course, winegrowing. Situated in the Breede River valley, the river is the lifeblood of this lower rainfall region. Although summer temperatures can be high, cooling south-easterly winds channel moisture-laden air into the valley.

Robertson is renowned for the quality of its wines and while traditionally considered white wine territory and known mainly for its Chardonnays and more recently for the quality of its Sauvignon Blanc, it is also the source of some of the Cape's finest red wines, particularly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, while the distinctive fortified dessert wines for which it was originally famed continue to be produced. The district of Robertson incorporates several wards.

STELLENBOSCH. The historical town of Stellenbosch, which features some of the finest examples of Cape Dutch architecture, boasts a winemaking tradition that stretches back to the start of the 17th-century. Stellenbosch, the ‘town of oaks', is the educational and research centre of the wine lands. Stellenbosch University is the only one in South Africa with a viticultural and oenological department, and many of the country's most successful winemakers studied there. The Elsenburg School of Agriculture is also near Stellenbosch, as is the Nietvoorbij Institute of Viticulture and Oenology. This organization has one of the most modern experimental wineries in the world and, at its experimental farms (situated in several wine growing districts), important research into new varietals, clones and rootstocks is undertaken.

The mountainous terrain, good rainfall, deep well-drained soils and diversity of terroirs make this a sought-after viticultural area. The rapidly increasing number of wine estates and producers (in excess of 130) include some of the most famous names in Cape wine. The district, with its mix of historic estates and contemporary wineries, produces excellent examples of almost all the noble grape varieties and is known for the quality of its blended reds.

The intensively farmed Stellenbosch district has been divided up into several smaller viticultural pockets including Jonkershoek Valley , Papegaaiberg, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, Bottelary and Devon Valley .

* Stellenbosch Wine Route , the oldest in the country and one of the most popular attractions in the Western Cape , has created several manageable sub-regions for tourists: Greater Simonsberg, Stellenbosch Mountain, Helderberg, Stellenbosch Hills and Bottelary Hills.

SWARTLAND. Traditionally a grain-producing area, in summer the Swartland district is marked by green pockets of vineyards clambering up the foothills of the mountains (Piketberg, Porterville , Riebeek, Perdeberg) and along the banks of the Berg River . In the past, the region was planted mainly to bush vines but trellising is increasingly being adopted due to advances in management strategies and quality considerations.

The Swartland was traditionally a source of robust, full-bodied red wines and high quality, fortified wines. In recent times, some exciting award-winning wines have emerged, both red and white, and the area continues to produce top port-style wines. Increasing percentages of Pinotage, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are being grown here, as well as Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. It has two designated wards, Malmesbury and Riebeekberg. The district of Swartland borders Piketberg to the north, which is not dissimilar in both geography and climate.

TULBAGH. Surrounded on three sides by the great Winterhoek Mountains , the vineyards of the Tulbagh district grow alongside orchards and fields of wheat. Soils in the valley are extremely variable. The area is characterized by extreme differences in day and night temperatures. Mountainous terrain creates numerous different microclimates which can be used to great advantage.

Unique to the valley's geographical composition is the ‘cold trap', a phenomenon which occurs as a result of the encapsulating mountains, shaped like a horseshoe, with Tulbagh situated at the north of the ‘bowl'. Within this bowl, once a prehistoric lake, the cold air of the previous night lies undisturbed. With no air movement from the sides, this cold bubble is trapped under the warming air above as the sun makes its way from east to west. The result is relatively cool average daily temperatures.

The town of Tulbagh boasts 32 national monuments on one street, and here history and tradition work hand-in-hand with innovation. With today's high-tech water management and advanced viticultural practices, the true potential of this area is starting to be realized. At present there are some 16 wineries – several of them relative newcomers making acclaimed wines, notably, for example, with local cultivar Pinotage – in this secluded valley.

WALKER BAY . This recently demarcated district, surrounding the seaside town of Hermanus, is reputed for the benchmark Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines which have emanated from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, a piece of ‘heaven on earth'. The cool climate is the sought-after attribute in this area where vineyards benefit from persistent cooling winds from the nearby ocean. The soils – predominantly weathered shales – and terroir are also ideal for cool-climate loving varieties. The area boasts some of the best land-based whale watching in the world in season (June to November).

WORCESTER . The Worcester District, with some 17 co-operatives and several big producers, is the largest in terms of winegrowing area and volume. With around 18 750 ha planted, it accounts for nearly 20% of the national vineyards and produces close on 25% of South Africa's total volume of wine and spirits. It's also the most important brandy producing area and home to the KWV Brandy Cellar, the largest of its kind in the world. Over the past few years, several of these large cellars have started bottling small quantities of quality wines under their own labels.

This district covers a large proportion of the Breede River Valley and its tributaries. It is surrounded by mountains on three sides and borders Robertson to the east. There are marked variations between the soils and microclimates in the different river valleys.

This district comprises several wards. The Goudini ward has as its hub the village of Rawsonville , surrounded by vineyards which flourish on a flat landscape of alluvial valley soils with adequate drainage as they rest on a bed of river stones. There are some 18 wineries in a radius of 10 kilometres on this wine route, called the Breedekloof Wine Route .





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