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In 1652 the Dutch East India Company set up a refreshment station and repair depot at the Cape of Good Hope for their merchant ships journeying the long passage between Europe, India and the Far East. Grapevine cuttings soon arrived and the first vineyard was planted in 1655. On 2 February 1659 the first wine was pressed from Cape grapes.

In 1685 a wine estate was established at Constantia on the slopes of Table Mountain. The young wine industry was given a boost in 1688 with the arrival of French Huguenot refugees escaping religious persecution. They were settled in the Cape and contributed with their knowledge of growing vines and winemaking to the further development of our fledgling industry.

In 1788, natural sweet wines produced in the Constantia region became famous overseas – they came to rival the best sweet wines of Europe. For almost two centuries they remained the Cape’s best-known and most sought-after wines, enjoyed by European Emperors and kings, statesmen and their guests. It is said Napoleon took casks of Constantia wine with him to St. Helena to comfort his exile.

During the 19th century, South Africa’s wine industry suffered due to devastating epidemics of powdery mildew and Phylloxera vastatrix. A serious overproduction of wine in 1918 caused prices to drop substantially, resulting in the disposal of millions of litres of unsaleable wine. To bring to an end the chaotic situation in the industry, a co-operative involving all wine producers in the country was founded. Under its abbreviated title, KWV, it gained local and international renown and brought stability to the industry.

In 1925 South Africa’s contribution to the history of the vinifera vine was the successful crossing of Pinot Noir and Hermitage (Cinsaut) by Professor Al Perold to produce Pinotage, a truly South African varietal.

From around 1950, producers were strongly influenced by the winemaking techniques of the Germans and Italians. In 1955 leading members of the industry established the Viticultural and Oenological Research Institute, today known as Nietvoorbij. In the late 1970s a new drive for quality resulted in the replanting and upgrading of vineyards and the development of cooler coastal regions better suited to noble varieties. New techniques in the vineyard and cellar produced new benchmarks in world-quality wines.

South Africa’s dynamic wine industry is constantly changing and reinventing itself as it takes up the challenges of global competition. Today, more than 100 000 hectares of vineyards are cultivated by 4 700 grape farmers and wine is made in more than 500 wine cellars and estates.

With a winemaking history dating back almost 350 years, the Cape’s wines reflect the classicism and tradition of the Old World but are also influenced by the contemporary styles of the New World. An enthusiastic new generation of Cape winemakers is building on their heritage by taking full advantage of our unique terroir to produce wines that are winning international accolades. These wines express the soils, climate, varieties and people of the Cape and tell their story to the world. South African wines are now exported to over 80 countries.



SA Wine History


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