Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wine country South Africa: History

Picture: Copy Right Wosa

This article is the first in a series of articles on South Africa. It was

Written (in German) by Dirk Wuertz, Germany and
Translated by Christian G.E. Schiller, US and Germany

Dirk Wuertz is a higly regarded wine maker and an active wine blogger in Germany. I had his wine in the US in Manhattan’s trendy wine bar The Ten Bells and wrote about it here.

South Africa's wine country

As most of our blog readers know, I have a high affinity for South Africa and South African wines. So what could be more natural than another new regular series --- on South Africa. In the future I will report regularly on the wine of South Africa, wine tastings and other related issues. Similar to the Greek column, I will attempt to provide information and facts about this fascinating country. Today, I begin with a short historical overview.

This year, South Africa celebrates an anniversary: 350 years of wine. In most wine-producing countries the trace of the first wineries gets lost in the mists of history. Not so in South Africa, where it all began in 1655, with a ship cargo of wine seedlings from France. These seedlings had been ordered by the commander of the newly formed Holländische station of the East India Company at the Cape. Jan van Riebeeck, then 33 years old, knew that for a ship journey, wine was better than water, which often got rotted in the barrels: Wine helped against the dangerous scorbutic. Four years later, on February 2, 1659, the first wine was made by van Riebeeck. At that time, he did not know that one of the most important wine countries of the Southern Hemisphere would emerge from the small port where the ships to take food on board for their journey to Indian.

Know-how from France

The first settlers on the Cape ( they proudly called themselves "free people") were sailors and adventurers. That some of them became wine growers over time was due to the knowledge about wine of the Huguenot immigrants, who had been expelled by Louis XIV of France. The name of the Franschhoek region reminds us of them. Important was the pioneering work of Governor Simon van der Stel. He not only founded the town of Stellenbosch, but also the Constantia wine estate that would become known all over the world.

Renaissance in the modern era

Britain's war against France brought a false sense of economic prosperity to the wine makers of the Cape. Since 1806, South Africa had been a British colony and the British colonial masters had provided themselves with South African wine. But after the abolition of the high protective tariffs in 1861, the situation became difficult for South African wines, because France was able to export wine again. In 1885 the devastating phylloxera began to spread around; the turn of the century saw a disastrous overproduction of wine. To cope with the economic consequences, the winemakers formed the first wine cooperative in 1918, Kooperatieve Wijnbouw Vereniging van Zuid Afrika (KWV).

Feel Free

It was not until the end of apartheid in 1993/94 and the opening of world markets for South Africa that the wine industry started to see a brighter future again. As the domestic consumption is much too low to absorb the whole local production, South Africa's winemakers have to rely on exports. The South African wine industry responded to increased global demand with substantial investment and focusing on quality.

In the next post we will look at our favorite grape Sauvignon Blanc ...

The article appeared in German on Friday 27 November 2009

Dirk Würtz
55239 Gau-Odernheim
Telefon: 06733 - 94 86 01

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