The early history of South African wine can be traced to the founding of a supply station at the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch East India Company. Jan van Riebeeck was given the task of managing the station and planting vineyards to produce wine and grapes, that could be used toward off scurvy for sailors continuing on their voyages along the spice route. In 1685, another Cape Governor, Simon van der Stel, purchased a large 1,850 acre estate, founding what would later become the world-renowned Constantia wine estate. In the 19th century, South Africa fell under British rule which proved lucrative for the wine industry as South African wine flowed into the British market. Following the devastation from the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century, many vineyards were replanted with high yielding grape varieties such as Cinsaut. For much of the 20th century, the wine industry of South Africa received very little attention on the worldwide stage. Its isolation was further deepened by boycotts of South African products in protest at the country's system of Apartheid. It wasn't until the late 1980s and 1990s when Apartheid was ended and the world's export market opened up that South African wines began to experience a renaissance.
The presence of flying winemakers from abroad brought international influences and focus on well known varieties such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
The main wine regions:
Constantia is the historic hub of Cape wine. Closest to Cape Town, it boasts some of the most famous estate names such as Groot and Klein Constantia, and Buitenverwachting, superb Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon wines are produced.
Durbanville and its hills northeast of Cape Town have a wine making history dating back 280 years. Some star performers are emerging, including brilliant Sauvignon Blancs with strong contemporary focus on Shiraz and Merlot.
Franschhoek lies in a contained valley, a pretty town founded by the French Huguenots in 1688. Today it is very much a boutique region with old buildings, restaurants and small producers.
Paarl is another of the Cape’s historic towns where wine has been made for centuries. Many cellars, small and large, from boutique to co-operative, produce wine from the ordinary to the sensational. Winemakers have been concentrating on shiraz, but some fine Chenin Blanc, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, blends, and even unusual varieties such as Viognier and Mourvèdreare turned into prize-winning wines.
Robertson and a few other villages lie along a fertile, if warm, valley where white wines such as chardonnay and sparkling wine used to be the main stars. Today the move is to red varieties, especially Shiraz.
Stellenbosch is, in the minds of many, the finest wine area in South Africa, claiming the crown for reds. With a list of more than 80 wineries and producers, it is also the most expensive wine farmland. Nearly all the most famous international names in South African wines are found here in an area reaching from sea-facing slopes to valley-hugging hills. This is the home of Kanonkop, Meerlust, Rustenberg, Thelema and Warwick. The list is endless. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinotage and Chenin Blanc are the stars here.
Walker Bay near the coastal town of Hermanus has become another of the Cape’s most fashionable regions. With Elgin to the west and Bot River inland, it falls under the Overberg appellation. It is the home of Cape Pinot Noir and good Chardonnay and home to places like Hamilton Russell.