South African Wines
In 1652, about 150 years after the discovery of the Cape Sea Route, Jan van Riebeeck established a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope, at what would become Cape Town. Founded on behalf of the Dutch East India Company, the stopover point provided its merchant ships, on the spice route between the Netherlands and the Far East, with fresh produce to avoid scurvy. In 1655, van Riebeeck, the first governor of the Cape, planted vines imported from France, the Rhineland and Spain. South Africa’s first vintage of wine was recorded in 1659.
The next two centuries were marked by a few successes: the French Huguenots advanced winemaking after their arrival; Simon van der Stel’s Constantia wines were enjoyed by Napoleon and Marie Antoinette. But it was also a time of many setback and difficulties: trial & error on the grape varieties; a scarcity of oak vats for proper aging; a lack of demand in foreign export markets; wars both at home and abroad; the discovery of phylloxera, which decimated the vineyards; and then over-production from an excess of new plantings.
In 1918, KWV, a collective of farmer members was created, thanks to the efforts of Charles Kohler. This brought stability to the industry, laying the foundation for growth, prosperity and today’s thriving wine industry.
South African Wines – From A Country of Contrasts
South Africa is located at the southernmost region of Africa. Its long coastline stretches more than 1550 miles along two oceans, the South Atlantic and the Indian. A country of enormous diversity, it features many ethnic origins; three capitals; over 11 official languages; a climate ranging from extreme desert to the lush sub-tropics; and landscapes from dramatic mountain ranges, fertile vineyards, and vast savannahs were wild animals like lions, giraffes and white rhinos still roam freely. South Africa also has over 20,000 different plants, about 10% of all known species on Earth. The genus Protea, with about 130 species, is a plant group unique to South Africa. Cape Town’s Table Mountain alone has more species than the entire U.K. or New Zealand. In fact, the Cape floristic region, one of the world’s six floral kingdoms, is located in the Western Cape and features over 9,000 species of fynbos.
The Western Cape province is a favorite among visitors. Its capital, Cape Town, is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, featuring five of South Africa’s top 10 attractions, including Table Mountain and Cape Point. Its wine region offers spectacular scenery and numerous wine routes, many within an hour or less of Cape Town. The Cape has the best land-based whale watching in the world. Tranquil beaches, fynbos, spring flowers and abundant birdlife are also among the natural attractions. Other activities in the area include swimming, sailing, surfing, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, hiking, rock-climbing, sightseeing and shopping.