Three Centuries of Cape Wine

Early Days

The establishment by the Dutch East India Company of a refreshment station at the Cape in 1652 had one single aim: to provide fresh food to the company's merchant fleet on their voyages to India and surrounding areas. But much more evolved than that - the establishment of a trading station led to a flourishing wine industry and later to the birth of a nation.

Jan van Riebeeck, the first governor of the Cape, planted a vineyard in 1655, and on 2 February 1659, the first wine was made from Cape grapes. This led to the planting of vines on a larger scale at Roschheuvel, known today as Bishopscourt, Wynberg. Van Riebeeck strongly encouraged farmers to plant vineyards although initially they were most reluctant.

There were many setbacks in the beginning, chiefly because of the farmers' ignorance of viticulture. Things improved when Van Riebeeck was succeeded in 1679 by Simon van der Stel, who was not only enthusiastic but very knowledgeable about viticulture and winemaking. He planted a vineyard on his farm Constantia and made good wine from the outset. Later, Constantia was acquired by the Cloete family and their wines became world-famous. To this day, Constantia wine is mentioned when the world's finest examples are discussed.

The Dutch had almost no wine tradition and it was only after the French Huguenots settled at the Cape between 1680 and 1690 that the wine industry began to flourish. As religious refugees, the Huguenots had very little money and had to make do with the bare essentials. They also had to adapt their established winemaking techniques to new conditions. But with time their culture and skills left a permanent impression on our wine industry, and on life at the Cape.

Cape wines into the 20th century
View a brief history of Cape wines until the start of the 20th century

Historical chronology of South African wines
View a timeline of important developments in the industry

The iconic sweet wines of Constantia
An interesting article on these legendary wines

The Dutch East India Company and the first wine trading
Early winemaking methods at the Cape in the 17th and 18th centuries
Contribution of slaves to winemaking in the 17th and 18th centuries
Early enjoyment of wine in the 17th and 18th centuries
The Constantia wine tradition

Vineyards and Wine and History
Prof. D.J. van Zyl, Department of History, University of Stellenbosch