As the only wine producing country in the world that has an exact date for its day of birth, this week, SA wine celebrated its 364th birthday. Although our industry still has significant challenges – some unique to us and others we share with the rest of the country – we also have a lot to celebrate. Surviving 364 years is quite an achievement!
On 2 February 1659, Jan van Riebeeck wrote in his diary “Praise be to God, the first wine was made from Cape grapes.” What a journey it was, from a time when vineyards were being planted in unfamiliar and uncertain circumstances, a continent away from their traditional home, to being a flourishing industry (despite its challenges) in 2023. Have a look at some of the highlights and most significant moments in the history of SA wine. (Thanks to WOSA for keeping such an accurate timeline. Don’t miss the detail with many more reasons for celebration on wosa.co.za.)
It might have taken three and a half centuries, but today, South African wine and its people are recognised internationally. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’ve proven our resilience, ingenuity and commitment.
Happy Birthday, South African wine!
SA Wine over Time
The first vines were imported from France, the Rhineland and Spain and successfully planted in the Company’s gardens.
The DEIC released 49 officers who became South Africa’s first free burghers. Each was given a small land grant to farm.
The first wine was produced at the Cape. Van Riebeeck wrote in his diary on 2 February: “Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes.”
The town of Stellenbosch was established by Governor Simon van der Stel.
Van der Stel planted some 10 000 vines in the Constantia valley.
Some 150 French Huguenots emigrated to the Cape, bringing with them their winemaking skills. They settled mainly in the Franschhoek valley.
Constantia exported wine to Europe. By 1788, the luscious dessert wines of Constantia won acclaim throughout Europe.
The Phylloxera disaster destroyed millions of vines at the Cape.
The Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, a partnership, was founded.
The Ko-operatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereeniging van Zuid-Afrika (KWV) was formed, saving the industry from disaster.
Professor Perold successfully cross-pollinated Pinot Noir with Hermitage (Cinsaut) to develop South Africa’s own grape variety, Pinotage.
The Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (SFW) Limited, a public company, was registered.
The Wine and Spirit Control Amendment Act was passed to control the minimum price for good wine.
Distillers Corporation was founded.
SFW launched Lieberstein, a semi-sweet table wine which revolutionised wine-drinking habits in South Africa.
The first Pinotage, a 1959 under the Lanzerac label, was marketed.
Lieberstein sales topped 31-million litres, becoming the world’s largest selling bottled wine.
Distillers built the Bergkelder with its maturation cellars tunnelled into Papegaaiberg in Stellenbosch.
Stellenbosch Wine Route, the first wine route in the country, was founded.
The Wine of Origin legislation was instituted.
The first Auction of Rare Cape Wines was held at Nederburg.
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.
I took my first winemaking job! 😉
Changes in the Wine of Origin legislation.
The SA Wines & Spirits Export Association (SAWSEA) was established.
Nelson Mandela was released from prison, impacting strongly on the South African wine industry and its acceptability in the international arena.
First National Bottled Wine Show and inaugural Veritas awards.
The quota system controlled by the KWV was scrapped.
The Méthode Cap Classique Association was formed.
KWV International was founded.
The South African Wine Industry Trust (SAWIT) was established to advance the transformation of the wine industry and promote exports.
Winetech initiated Vision 2020, with its aim to produce detailed strategies for the South African wine industry.
The inaugural Cape Wine 2000, showcasing South African wines, was held.
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.
SFW and Distillers Corporation merged to form one company, Distell.
Joint venture between Australia’s BRL Hardy and Stellenbosch Vineyards (SV) was announced – a first for the local industry.
The SA Wine Industry Ethical Trading Association (WIETA) was established.
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.
White wines were bottled under screwcaps by several South African producers.
South Africa celebrated 10 years as a peaceful democracy.
KWV entered into the industry’s largest broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) deal with the Phetogo Consortium obtaining 25.1% shares.
KWV branded wines available on the local market.
The pioneering Biodiversity & Wine Initiative (BWI) was initiated to incorporate biodiversity best practices into the SA wine industry.
The world’s first biodiversity wine route, the Green Mountain Eco Route, was established within the Groenlandberg Conservancy.
The biggest ever showcase for SA wines, Cape Wine 2006, was hosted by WOSA at the CTICC, attracting international and national wine media and buyers. This highly successful event featured the world’s first seminar on wine diversity. Some 40% of SA producers signed a pledge to farm in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way with respect for both people and the land, and filled in a diversity survey of what is noteworthy and worth preserving on their lands – these were presented at the seminar.
South African wine exports reached a record 407 000 000 litres.
The anniversary of 350 years of winemaking was celebrated.
Sales of First Cape were up 135% to £90 million in the UK. It overtook Kumala to become the Cape’s biggest selling wine brand and ranked second on the list of fastest-growing wine brands.
KWV Ltd unbundled its indirect shareholding in Distell from its own operations and assets to become KWV Holdings Ltd.
Sales of South African wines overtook French wines for the first time in the UK wine market. According to figures from market analysts AC Nielsen, South African wine sales grew 20 percent, by volume, to 12 270 000 9L cases, compared to a decline in French wine sales of 12 percent, to 12 266 000 9L cases.
SA introduced the world’s first sustainability seal as a guarantee of eco-friendly production.
South African wine tourism was rated the best developed in the world by the influential International Wine Review.
The launch in May of a campaign to ensure ethical trading throughout the entire supply chain and the introduction of a seal that only producers who pass the WIETA audit criteria annually are entitled to use were two huge milestones reached in the South African wine industry.
Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2007 became the first South African wine to achieve a 97-point rating in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. This precedent was followed by the Sadie Family Old Vines Series Kokerboom 2011 also achieving 97 points a few months later.
Exports for 2012 reached 417 million litres, 10 million litres more than the previous record of 407 million litres achieved in 2008.
China made its first investment in the Cape Winelands in August 2013 when Perfect China in Yangzhou, the 51% shareholding partner in Perfect Wines of South Africa, purchased the wine cellar at Val de Vie in Paarl. The deal included a 25 ha wine farm with 21 ha of vineyards and the historic manor house, dating back to 1783.
The total 2013 crop was 4.6% higher than the record crop of 2008.
The annual Nederburg Auction in September broke the record of previous auctions, yielding R4.36-million at an average of R355 per litre, compared with the 2012 average of R185.
2013 was a record year for South African wine exports, which broke the 500 million litre mark for the first time, reaching 525.3 million litres for the year.
The inaugural AfrAsia Bank Cape Wine Auction raised R7 045 000 for education charities in the winelands.
Viticulturist Pietie le Roux of La Motte won The Drinks Business Green Awards Personality of the Year Award.
South Africa achieved a 50% increase in gold medals at the 2015 International Wine & Spirit Competition.
Sales of South African wine in the US for the 52-week period ending 16 July 2016 went up 14% by volume and showed a 25% growth in value.
South Africa earned higher prices for its wines in several key markets. While the year-on-year rand per litre price for bottled wines increased by 13% in the UK for the 12 months to August, it rose by 19% for the same period in Germany and Canada, and by 32% in the Netherlands.
South African wine exports of R9.0 billion (428.5 million litres ) went up by 9.8 percent in 2016, driven by impressive growth in higher price points, and exceeded local sales of R7.9 billion (up 9.4%).
Discover South Africa by WOSA was announced the winner in the Best Trade Campaign category at The Drinks Business Asian Awards 2017.
The Institute of Masters of Wine and international trade publication The Drinks Business announced Eben Sadie of South Africa’s Sadie Family Wines as the winner of the 2017 Winemakers’ Winemaker Award.
A new Wine of Origin District named after Cape Town, one of the world’s foremost tourism brands, incorporates the wards of Constantia, Durbanville, Philadelphia and Hout Bay. A total of 30 wineries will join forces under Wine of Origin Cape Town.
The Old Vines Project (OVP) launched the Certified Heritage Vineyards seal that members can place on bottles of wine made from vineyards of 35 years or older, together with the planting date. The certification seal, which is a world first, guarantees authentic wines grown according to the OVP viticultural and winemaking guidelines.
Vergelegen was declared a Western Cape provincial heritage site. The iconic property was also recently voted the best wine estate in Africa at the World’s Best Vineyard 2019 competition.
Overstrand Hermanus was awarded UNESCO Creative City status for Gastronomy, one of only 10 cities worldwide to be recognised by the organisation for gastronomy in 2019 and the first on the African continent to receive this distinction.
The Code of Commercial Communications under the auspices of aware.org (the association for alcohol responsibility and education) was launched, with the aim to provide clear guidelines for the responsible marketing of wine and other liquor products, and thereby curb alcohol abuse in communities.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a nationwide lockdown came into effect from midnight on Thursday 26 March until 16 April with any trade and manufacturing of alcoholic products to cease during this time. A later concession was made for the wine industry to complete harvesting and processing activities to prevent wastage during the 21-day lockdown. On 07 April, the Minister of Transport gazetted new directions under the lockdown regulations to permit the export of wines and other fresh produce products. Local liquor sales were banned through various more levels of lockdown.
In one of the most challenging years ever for the South African wine industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic, overall wine exports managed to increase by 7.7% in value to R9.1 billion. A total of 319.2 million litres of wine was exported despite a five-week long ban and significant challenges at the Cape Town Terminal in the Port of Cape Town. The super-premium segment showed growth of 37% in volume.
On 11 January, President Ramaphosa announced that the level 3 restrictions prohibiting the sale of alcohol for on- and off-consumption would be extended. Wine businesses started trading again on 01 February when the third ban on local liquor sales was partially lifted. Various stages of bans and restrictions were reintroduced during June / July and eased by mid-September. Access the Wine Industry Covid-19 Pandemic Timeline infographic here.
South Africa’s first ever Cap Classique – the iconic Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel – celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. At R3 per bottle in 1971, it was the most expensive wine on the market in South Africa at the time.
A rare bottle of Grand Constance 1821 reached a record-breaking R420 000 at the Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction on 22 May. This is one of roughly eight bottles known to still exist globally, from an allocation originally destined for the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
On 14 September, multiple records were smashed on the Strauss & Co Live Auction which included five single bottle lots of South African wines, most notably a bottle of Grand Constance 1821 that fetched a staggering R967 300 (including commission), doubling an earlier record achieved at the Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction in May this year.
The Wine Arc, launched on 11 November, signifies the start of a new beginning and growth prospects for black-owned brands. A total of 13 brands – Aslina Wines, Bayede!, Cape Dreams, Carmen Stevens Wines, Koni Wines, La Ricmal, Libby’s Pride Wines, M’Hudi Wines, Paardenkloof Wines, Ses’fikele Wines, The Bridge of Hope Wines, Tesselaarsdal Wines and Thokozani Wines – will be participating in the pilot programme.
While still faced with a myriad of challenges due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, total volume exports of wine increased by 22% to *388 million litres with export value increasing by 12% to R10.2 billion. This figure is most positive when compared to 2018 exports where a total volume of 420 million litres fetched only R9.1 billion.
*Please note that this volume excludes industrial wine exports.
Johann Krige, co-owner of Kanonkop Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, was elected as President of the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC), the world’s leading competition for finding excellence in international wine and spirits. He becomes only the second South African to achieve this honour, the other being the late Dr Anton Rupert from the then Rembrandt Group, who was IWSC President in 1996.
The town of Franschhoek in the Western Cape has made Time Magazine’s prestigious list of ‘The World’s Greatest Places for 2022’. This collection includes 50 destinations from around the world nominated by Time’s correspondents and contributors. The only South African destination to make the list, Franschhoek was dubbed ‘A wine lover’s dream’.
For the first time, two South African producers took home the trophies for both the Red Wine Producer of the Year (Kanonkop) and White Wine Producers of the Year (Jordan) at the prestigious International Wine & Spirit Awards.