of South African Wine
" Landmark developments
in the Cape Wine industry have led to the beginning of a renaissance evidencing
the region's potential to produce New World caliber wines offering fine
quality and good value." The Wine Journal
Africa has an over 300-year history in the production of wine. Tremendous
development has occurred viniculturally and viticulturally. Nearly all wineries
in South Africa are within a 100-mile radius of Cape Town. The wine industry
in world terms, ranks 7th in production, and 20th in
The arrival of Jan
van Riebeeck at the Cape in 1652 heralded the beginning of wine-growing
in South Africa. For it was he who recommended to the Dutch East India Company
that the Cape, with her suitable grape-growing climate would serve as a
useful victalling station for the ships on their passage to the East. Thus
in 1655 a shipment of grape vine cuttings, mainly from France, arrived in
Table Bay and soon after the first vineyards were planted. In 1659 the first
wine was made by Jan van Riebeeck himself.
The Commander's successful attempt greatly
inspired the Free Burghers, servants of the company who had been freed to
farm their own land. Vine cuttings were distributed amongst them and they
moved further inland to plant new vineyards and forge a future for themselves
as wine farmers. Neither Jan van Riebeeck nor the Free Burghers held much
viticultural knowledge or produced wine of any fine quality and it was not
until Simon van der Stel, the Governor of the Cape, demonstrated personally
that it was possible to produce palatable wine, that the quality of the
wine started improving.
van der Stel bought Groot Constantia, made it into a model wine estate,
reorganised the local farming community by introducing crop quotas and established
Stellenbosch, the first settlement inland from Cape Town. Willem Adrian
van der Stel succeeded his father as the governor of the Cape and although
despised by the Free Burghers for his tyranical style and corrupt practices,
his useful contribution to improving the vineyards in the Cape cannot be
disputed. His Gardener's Almanac reflects a detailed account of the progress
he made and is the first official record of a vineyard here in the Cape.
The Free Burgher rebellion in the Cape abruptly ended his career as Governor
and in 1708 he was banished to Holland where he spent the rest of his life
Groot Constantia, after a long period of neglect
and dishevelment, regained its former glory and much greater fame when the
Cloete family descended from Jan van Riebeeck's undergardener, bought the
farm in the late eighteenth century. Such was their success that the Constantia
wines came to fill the glasses of the famous: Frederick of Prussia imported
it, Jane Austin mentions it and Napolean Bonaparte, improsoned on St. Helena,
is known to have yearned for the sweet wines of Constantia.
The French Huguenots furthe expanded the art
of viticulture, for on their arrival in the Cape in 1688, although they
did not have direct wine making experience, they brought with them their
culture and knowledge of vineyard and cellar practice. Most of the Huguenots
settled in the Franschhoek Valley where the names of the farms today bear
testimony to its French past.
Having gained from France's eviction of the
Protestants, the Free Burghers one again prospered from the strife tearing
through Europe during the eighteenth century. As a result of the wars the
French wine trade was cut off from England who then looked to the Cape for
sweet wine, ports and sherries and thus brought great wealth to the colony.
With this affluence came the establishment of the elegant Cape Dutch Homesteads
which today keep the nostalgic charm of the past alive in the winelands.
however, was a honeymoon period as political turmoil, economic distress
with the loss of the overseas wine market and the removal of protective
trade tariffs ensued, bringing great hardship to the wine farmers. The culminating
factor occurred in 1885 when the devistating epidemic of louse-like aphids,
commonly called Phylloxera, struck and destroyed most of the wines in South
Africa and Europe.
Once research showed that North American vines
were immune to Phylloxera and American rootstock was grafted onto Cape vines
- an essential feature, which is still practiced today, the vineyards of
the Cape were slowly restored. But with the restoration of the vineyards
came disaster of a different kind. Ironically recovery was too fruitful,
uncontrolled overproduction resulted and, without the overseas market to
absorb the excess, millions of litres of wine had to be poured away. Many
destitute farmers were left bankrupt and many migrated to the towns.
Colorful vineyeards in the Western Cape
The romantic and idyllic lifestyle often associated
with winefarming was a far cry from the struggles faced by the Free Burgher,
a person rebellious by nature. The occupation of the colony by the British
after the Dutch departed in 1806 perpetuated their plight. With the new
colonists came new legislation, the most controversial of which was the
emancipation of slaves in 1834. For many Burghers already disgruntled with
government, having their convenient source of labour undermined was the
final straw and lead to their mass migration to the North - known in the
historical annals as the Great Trek.
Amidst the turmoil and severe setbacks suffered
in the country and more especially the winelands came a positive breakthrough
which was to change the winemaking process forever and dramatically improve
the quality of wine. After analysing wine under a microscope Louis Pasteur,
in 1863, discovered that because of wine's organic nature every stage of
the winemaking process could be controlled. This major development in scientific
viticulture later proved to be greatly significant in the history of South
African wine as it inspired the well-known South African viticulturalist,
Professor Perold, to experiment and cross Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (commonly
known as Hermitage). In 1925 he successfully produced the Pinotage wine
- South Africa's only local cultivar.
major inroads had been made in the history of South Africa. The Anglo-Boer
War, fought in the North, culminated in the Peace of Vereeniging in 1902,
when the Boer Republics lost their independence and became part of the British
Empire. Eight years later, with the declaration of the Act of Union, both
the Boer Republics and the Cape were incorporated into a new country to
form the Union of South Africa.
In an effort to rescue the wine industry, crippled
by over-production, the hardships of war and economic stress, the first
co-operative was established in 1905. The co-operative system aimed to replace
the traditional trend, where farmers competed amongst each other, with a
system of collective bargaining and marketing. A further advantage was that
machinery and technical knowledge could be pooled.
In spite of the distinct advantages of this
system the problem of over-production still had not been entirely overcome
due to the lack of authority held by the co-operative. In response to this
problem the Ko-operatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid Afrika Beperkt
(KWV) was formed in 1918.
KWV is today a dynamic commercial organisation
which markets internationally while supplying products to domestic wholesalers
acting as administrator of the wine industry at producer level and also
offering a wide range of specialised services to winefarmers and the public.
The organisation handles about 70 percent of
South African wine exports. KWV represents 4,919 producers. Its objectives
are to ensure long-term stability of the industry and to maintain a rewarding
return for both the producer and the organisation.
1935, the largest of the producing wholesalers, Stellenbosch Farmers' Winery
(SFW), was founded by an American doctor, William Charles Winshaw. Together
with Mr Krige Jnr whose father had purchased a section of 'Libertas' farm
on the northern bank of the Eerste River in Stellenbosch, Winshaw started
producing wine on the farm they called Oude Libertas. As a former doctor
and converted wine maker he concentrated mainly on natural wine as he believed
it to be a healthier drink than the fortified wines consumed at the time.
He gained great acclaim with the launch of the dry white Lieberstein wine,
sales of which soared to record heights. Lieberstein became the world's
largest selling branded wine.
Later, mergers and takeovers of other wholesalers
such as Monis of Paarl, VH Metterson, Nederburg and Sedgwick-Taylor resulted
in SFW become the producer and marketer of a large range of natural and
fortified wines and spirits. The second biggest producing wholesaler, Distillers
Corporation was launched in 1945. This company also expanded through mergers
and takeovers of companies like the Drostdy Co-operative Cellars and South
African Distillers. In 1974 Distillers Coporation formed Bergkelder, an
original marketing concept which invited wine estates to make use of the
corporation's bottling, sales and marketing expertise and maturation facilities.
A quota system went into effect in 1956, which legally limited the number
of vines a farmer could grow, thereby allowing the KWV to set the size of
the crop as well as control the location of the grapes. For 15 years incoming
vines were impounded.
In 1979 the most important merger in
wine history occurred, and one which restructured the liquor industry as
a whole. Distillers, SFW and its imported product subsidiary, Henry Taylor
and Ries merged and became co-subsidiaries of a holding company, Cape Wine
and Distillers (CWD).
In 1988 CWD was disolved and Distillers and SFW were listed separately on
the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. South African Breweries (SAB), Rembrandt
and KWV each have 30 percent shares in these companies, while the public
has access to the remainder. W & A Gilbeys is also a major liquor wholesale
merchant in South Africa. Other independent wholesalers include Douglas
Green Bellingham (DGB), Jonkheer Farmers Winery and Mooiuitsig Wynkelders.
In 1992 KWV eliminated the quota system in
an effort to encourage a free market. Prices are now set by market demand
and vines can be planted anywhere.
Jan van Riebeeck may
never have dreamed that out of the humble vineyard planted in his garden
at the foot of Table Mountain would grow sprawling wine farms and complex
corporations, and yet their raison d'etre remains the same. For nature has
endowed the southern tip of the African continent, with a climate well-suited
for grape growing and has over the centuries attracted people to exploit
its full potential.