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History of SA Wine

There are few, if any, industries in South Africa that can boast of a history that is as old as the wine industry. At over 350 years, the South African wine industry is one of the oldest ’New World’ wine growers.

The bulk of South Africa’s vineyards are located within 160-kilometres of Cape Town, roughly the same area cultivated by Jan van Riebeeck in the mid 1600s. These vineyards form the backbone of what is now a multi billion Rand industry which had a shaky start in 1659 when Van Riebeeck produced a mere 15 litres of Muscadel, not a significant harvest by any means.

The Dutch did not have much experience in wine making and it was with the arrival of the French Huguenots from 1680 that the fledgling wine industry started to flourish and by the early 1700s, the Cape wines were beginning to be held in high esteem.

When the French revolutionary forces entered Holland, the British occupied the Cape. The Britain found herself cut off from supplies of French wines and began exporting South African wines to the many corners of their Empire. By 1859 the export of Cape wines to Britain alone had reached one million gallons.

Disaster struck the Cape wine industry when in 1861 Britain resolved her differences with France and South Africa’s wine exports collapsed. To make matters worse, the disease phylloxera was discovered in the Cape and the vineyards were decimated.

Despite these setbacks, the production of wine continued. This was in part helped on by the large number of immigrants attracted by the discovery of gold and diamonds in the late 1800s. The sudden wealth of these immigrants in turn sparked off the Boer War in 1899. Farmers however continued to plant and produce wine leading to massive overproduction.

It was only in 1918 with the establishment of KWV did things stabilise. This first major co-op had government-backed powers brought stability to the industry. KWV decided that half the annual wine production be distilled into brandy and thereby effectively improving the quality of Cape wines. It also had a policy of blending the rest of the surplus into marketable export products which placed the industry on the road to growth and prosperity. The foundation was laid for today’s thriving industry.

Ironically, it was also the strict controls placed on the industry by KWV that ultimately had its own negative outcomes on the South African wine industry which was finally resolved in the late 1990s.

Important developments between 1650 and 1890
- 1652 The Dutch East India Company (DEIC) set up a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope under the command of Jan van Riebeeck.
- 1655-56 The first vines were imported from France, the Rhineland and Spain and successfully planted in the Company’s gardens.
- 1657 The DEIC released 49 officers who became South Africa’s first free burghers. Each was given a small land grant to farm.
- 1659 The first wine was produced at the Cape. Van Riebeek wrote in his diary on 02 February: “Today, praise be to god, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes.”
- 1678 The town of Stellenbosch was established by Governor Simon van der Stel.
- 1680 Van der Stel planted some 100 000 vines in the Constantia valley.
- 1688 Some 150 French Huguenots emigrated to the Cape, bringing with them their winemaking skills. They settled mainly in the Franschhoek valley.
- 1761 Constantia exported wine to Europe. By 1788, the luscious dessert wines of Constantia win acclaim throughout Europe.
- 1886 The phylloxera disaster destroyed millions of vines at the Cape

Important developments since 1900
- 1906 The first co-operative winery, the Drostdy Ko-operatiewe Keller Beperkt, was founded in Tulbagh.
- 1918 The Ko-operatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereeniging van Zuid-Afrika (KWV) was formed, saving the industry from disaster.
- 1925 Professor Perold successfully cross-pollinated Pinot Noir with Hermitage (Cinsaut) to develop South Africa’s own grape variety, Pinotage.
- 1935 Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (SFW) Limited was founded.
- 1936 Nederburg wine farm was bought by Johann Graue, a German immigrant who used cold fermentation for making white table wine in the 1950s.
- 1940 The Wine and Spirit Control Amendment Act was passed to control the minimum price for good wine.
- 1945 Distillers Corporation was founded.
- 1950 Gilbeys SA was founded.
- 1955 The Viticultural and Oenological Research Institute (VORI) was founded. Today it is known as Nietvoorbij.
- 1959 SFW launched Lieberstein, a semi-sweet table wine which revolutionised wine-drinking habits in South Africa.
- 1961 The first Pinotage, a 1959 under the Lanzerac label, was marketed.
- 1964 Lieberstein sales topped 31-million litres, becoming the world’s largest selling bottled wine.
- 1965 SFW, Monis and Nederburg amalgamated.
- 1968 Distillers built the Bergkelder with its maturation cellars tunnelled into Papegaaiberg in Stellenbosch.
- 1971 Stellenbosch Wine Route, the first wine route in the country, was founded.
- 1973 The Wine of Origin legislation was instituted.
- 1975 The first Auction of Rare Cape Wines was held at Nederburg.
- 1979 The Cape Wine Academy (CWA), the wine industry’s general education body, was founded in Stellenbosch by SFW in October.
- The restructuring of the Liquor Industry by government sanction took place.
- 1980 Regulations regarding the residual sugar content of table wine changed – for the first time provision was made for wine exceeding 30g per litre.
- 1983 The Cape Winemakers’ Guild (CWG), an independent association, was formed.
- 1984 Flavoured wines introduced to the market.
- 1985 The inaugural CWG wine auction was held.
- 1990 Changes in the Wine of Origin legislation.
- 1990 The SA Wines & Spirits Export Association (SAWSEA) was established.
- 1991 First National Bottled Wine Show and inaugural Veritas awards.
- 1992 The quota system was scrapped.
- 1992 Merger of KWV wine courses with the CWA.
- 1992 The Méthode Cap Classique Association was formed.
- 1993 The Port Producers’ Association was formed.
- 1994 The first democratic elections are held in South Africa.
- 1995 The Pinotage Association was formed.
- 1995 KWV International was founded.
- 1996 Stellenbosch Vineyards (Pty) Ltd was founded.
- 1997 KWV Registered as a private company on 01 December.
- 1997 ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij was founded.
- 1998 The new Liquor Bill, a three-tier system, was approved by parliament.
- 1998 The CWA was registered in an independent Trust.
- 1999 The new Liquor Bill rejected as unconstitutional and referred back to parliament for amendment.
- 1999 The South African Wine Industry Trust 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.
- 2000 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.
- 2000 The Chenin Blanc Association was formed.
- 2000 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.
- 2002 Joint venture between Australia’s BRL Hardy and Stellenbosch Vineyards (SV) was announced – a first for the local industry.
- 2002 The SA Wine Industry Ethical Trading Association (WIETA) was established.
- 2002 The Shiraz Association was formed.
- 2002 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.
- 2002 White wines were bottled under screwcaps by several South African producers.
- 2002 The CWA was transferred by Distell to an independent group of management specialists called pointBreak.
- 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.
- 2004 South Africa celebrates 10 years as a peaceful democracy.
- 2004 KWV wines now available on the local market.