A lasting legacy

South Africa is fortunate enough to know the exact date on which its wine industry began thanks to an entry in the diary of Jan van Riebeeck, an official of the Dutch East India Company and First Commander of the Cape, on 2 February 1659: “Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes, namely from the new must, fresh from the vat. The grapes were mostly Muscadel, and other white round grapes, very fragrant and tasty." 

The first big black-tie event on this year’s wine calendar was the Wine Harvest Commemorative Function, which was held on Thursday 05 February at the granddaddy of wine estates, Groot Constantia, in the well-heeled suburb of Constantia, a fitting venue with its gracious gabled buildings and a history of continuous winemaking dating back to 1685.

Prayers and devotions were performed in anticipation of a successful harvest, followed by a three-course gourmet dinner paired with the estate’s award-winning wines.

In full swing already, after starting some two weeks earlier than usual following a dry season, the 2015 crush is showing promise and already has many winemakers across the various regions feeling very positive. Groot Constantia’s winemaker Boela Gerber reported a “lighter yield but looking pretty good…” at the start of the estate’s 330th harvest.

Another important aspect of the evening was to honour an outstanding South African wine industry personality. According to the event’s press release, the recipient of the coveted 1659 Medal of Honour should have demonstrated that a pioneering, positive and significant contribution to the wine industry has been made – of which there must be tangible and substantial evidence. The efforts of the recipient must be worthy of praise and should have significantly changed the thinking and/or lives of people with clear evidence of a special legacy.

The worthy recipient this year was Norma Ratcliffe of Warwick Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. Known as the ‘first lady’ of South African wine, she’s the first woman to win this prestigious award. "My most valuable achievements are still ahead of me, not behind me," commented Norma in her acceptance speech.

The same attitude is apparent in the South African wine industry and it is inspiring to reflect on just how far it has come since the birth of our democracy in 1994. This buoyant sector, a leader in production integrity and sustainability, not only continued to increase its contribution to South Africa’s GDP but also generated job opportunities despite the international economic downturn, according to the Final Report – Macro-economic Impact of the Wine Industry on the South African Economy (2008–2013), prepared by Conningarth Economists for South African Wine Industry Information and Systems (SAWIS) and released the day after the industry’s 356th birthday anniversary. A substantial growth in wine export volumes played a significant role in its sterling performance.

The South African wine industry has come from a state of isolation to proudly taking its place on the international platform with some of the most exciting wines in the world from some of the most beautiful and diverse wine regions on earth. 

– Lindsaye Mc Gregor