South Africa: History

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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The father of the South African wine industry was a 33-year-old Dutch surgeon sent to establish a market garden to reduce the risks of scurvy on the long sea passage between Europe and the Indies. Jan van Riebeeck, the Cape’s first European settler, was a reluctant pioneer, and no viticulturist. But his brief was to set up a supply station for dutch east india company sailors on the spice routes; and the Cape’s mediterranean climate suggested vines might well flourish.

Seven years after sailing into Table Bay on 6 April 1652, at the head of a ragtag mercenary band, he recorded: ‘Today, praise be to God, wine was pressed for the first time from Cape grapes.’ The cuttings came from ‘somewhere in western France’ according to viticulturist Professor C. Orffer. Conditions and quality improved when a new governor, Simon van der Stel, established the legendary 750-ha/1,850-acre constantia wine estate outside Cape Town in 1685.