History of the South African wine industry

South Africa is hailed for its thriving wine industry, which has helped contribute to the number of tourists who visit the country each year. With a history dating back to the 1600s, the story of how South Africa came to be one of the leading countries in the wine industry is a fascinating one.

Beginning with the colonisation of the Cape and ending with modern day South African wineries gaining a worldwide reputation, the history of the South African wine industry is one hell of a story to be told.

Image by Tim Parkinson.

The Arrival of Jan van Riebeeck

In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck arrived at the Cape, and soon informed the Dutch East India Company that the climate was ideal for growing grapes. A supply station was erected, serving as a place to restock ships sailing to and from Asia. It wasn’t long after this that vineyards soon began sprouting up, allowing Jan van Riebeeck to produce South Africa’s first wine in 1659.

Greatly inspired by Riebeeck’s successful attempt at making wine, the Free Burghers (freed servants of the company who then farmed their own land) began to build their own vineyards, sowing the seeds of a future as wine farmers.

Simon van der Stel’s Refinement

However, it wasn’t until Simon van der Stel – the governor of the Cape – intervened that South Africa’s wine industry began to take off. He believed that there was a way to make South African wine palatable, and soon began producing wine of a more refined quality.

Van der Stel purchased Groot Constantia and made it into a wine estate and established Stellenbosch, South Africa’s first settlement inland from Cape Town.

After his death, Sim van der Stel’s son took over the running of Groot Constantia until his exile to Holland in 1709.

The Science behind Wine Making

In 1863, scientist Louis Pasteur surveyed a sample of wine underneath a microscope and realised that every stage of the winemaking process could be controlled, thus yielding better flavour combinations.

This led to the viticulturist Professor Perold to experiment with winemaking, until he produced the first Pinotage wine in 1925, an amalgamation of a Pinot Noir and Cinsaut.

Image by Tim Parkinson.


South Africa’s wine industry is very much alive today. All the finest restaurants and bars across the world are proud to stock wine from South Africa, and even use it as the focal point of their establishments.

Many tourists flock to South Africa for a wine tasting holiday, travelling to the Cape Winelands where a bevy of wine estates now reside. Days can be spent sipping at some of the most delicious wines whilst drinking in the exquisite surroundings which the Winelands are renowned for.

Image by Tim Parkinson.

Having won various awards for their produce, the wineries in South Africa are highly deserving of their accolades.

Excelling in a country which has endured historical hardships, the wine industry in South Africa is sure to remain as a reminder to all other countries of what good wine should taste like.

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