New World Wine Regions: South Africa

A vineyard in Stellenbosch, South AfricaA vineyard in Stellenbosch, South Africa – Photo Courtesy: Dingy



The establishment of a supply station on the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa in the 17th century marked the beginning of the history of wine in that country. Since it was believed that wine could help sailors who suffered from scurvy, the governor of the time was ordered to establish the production of wine by planting new vineyards. So the first South African wine was produced in 1659 and thus the South African wine industry was launched.




A couple of decades later, in 1679, the next governor Simon van der Stel established a serious wine production facility by purchasing a large estate for vineries and recruiting French winemakers. The estate was named Constantia and this name was destined to become famous in the world of wine in the future.

Governor Van der Stel set down a number of serious standards for farmers and winemakers to impart high quality to his product. This resulted in high praise for the Constantia wines, on the European market of the time, as the first good New World wine. It is said that even Napoleon liked the Constantia wine and praised it. With the passing of Simon van der Stel, wine business slowed down in South Africa. It was taken over by a businessman named Hendrik Cloete who put in a lot of hard work into the estate and managed to restore the fame of Constantia wine.


British Rule


South Africa came under the British rule in 1816 and that opened new markets for winemakers of the time. While the Kingdom was satisfied with wine supplies from Portugal, the wines from South Africa also garnered interest and eventually landed on the British market. American merchants showed their own interest in this new kind of wine and trading reached across the ocean.

However, this high point in the history of South African winemaking was to be followed by hard times.


Oidium and Phylloxera Epidemics


By the middle of the 19th century, the South African vineries were ravaged; first by Oidium – a type of fungal spore – and then by the dreaded Phylloxera epidemic. It took 20 years for the industry to recover from these epidemics and to replant most of the vineries in the country. However, while the winemaking was restored, there was no interest shown in it by the global market. Unfortunately then, a large amount of produced wine was destroyed by simply pouring it into the local water sources!


Formation of KWV


In response to this crisis, the government of South Africa formed the Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Bpkt (KWV), an organization to control the wine production in the country. But by 1924, this organization turned monopolist and the local winemaking industry was buried under the yoke of bureaucracy and conservatism.


Political Upheavals and Resurrection of Wine Industry


In the 20th century, South Africa went through tumultuous times as the world was going through major political changes and the country was boycotted because of its apartheid policies. This resulted in a near wipe-out of the wine industry. Fortunately, with the end of apartheid towards the end of the century, the interest towards wine industry was rekindled and the earlier mentioned KWV was reformed into a privately owned structure.

New winemaking technologies were introduced and soon the country rose in the list of top wine exporters. South Africa now accounts for 4% of global wine export market as more and more people are getting involved in the industry. It is hoped that this infusion of fresh blood will help develop the true potential of the region and the old fame of Constantia wine might rule the wine markets again.

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