wine cultivating history south africa
Cultivating in good hope
The Mystic Harvest
The Lie of the Land
Taming the Terroir
Image is everything
The Devil's Harvest
Vineyard Vignettes
wine cultivating history south africa
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Lord Charles Somerset,
Governor of the Cape in
1818 [363]

By showcasing a small selection of the material held by the National Library of South Africa on the subject of wine, Fruits of the Vine celebrates a proud, 185-year old tradition of library service from 1818 to 2003.

An early connection exists between the National Library and the local South African wine industry. The Library was established by government proclamation on 20 March 1818, signed by Lord Charles Somerset, whereby a gauging-tax was charged on the sale of wine. The proceeds from this tax was set aside for the formation of a Public Library at the Cape. The Library, initially housed in the Old Supreme Court building where Cape Town’s Slave Lodge is found today, first opened its doors to the public on 2 January 1822.


From left to right: (Click on a thumbnail to enlarge)
1. Cape Town Gazette and African Advertiser, 1818 [1]
2. The establishment of a public library [1]
3. Extract from The State of the Cape of Good Hope in 1822,
edited by William Bird [11]
4. The title page of The State of the Cape of Good Hope in 1822 [11]
5. A section of the frontispiece map showing Cape Town,
the Castle and the nearby Company Gardens [11]
6. Mr Lolley, examiner and gager of casks.
Extract from the African Court Calendar & Directory, 1818 [12]

In 1829 the proceeds of the wine-tax were withdrawn and the Library moved to the Commercial Exchange, where it was funded by public subscription. In 1857 Governor Sir George Grey made available the site at the bottom of the Botanical Gardens (where the Cape Town Campus of the National Library is still housed today) and in 1860 Prince Alfred inaugurated the new building accommodating both the Library and the Museum (now the South African Museum, part of Iziko Museums).

Cornelis Houtman,
the Commander
of the expedition [3]

The first reference made to wine in the recorded history of South Africa was made by the traveler Cornelis Houtman, who stopped at Mossel Bay in 1595 en route to the East. Houtman records that he bartered Spanish wine for meat [3] with the local Khoi herders.

From left to right: (Click on a thumbnail to enlarge)
1. Title page of Cornelis Houtmans’s account of his journey [3]
2. “Afrika’s Zuidkust” as mapped in 1595 [3]
3. Bartering for supplies at Mossel Bay [3]
4. Khoikhoi with cattle [416]

Red wine, useful on long sea voyages to prevent scurvy and the use of which was carefully controlled, must still have been in plentiful supply on board.

Jan van Riebeeck,
responsible for establishing a
refreshment station for the
Dutch East India Company,
at the Cape [2]

Although European travellers had ongoing contact with the Khoi from 1488, this contact was limited to trading and to intermittent conflict over European attempts to get fresh water and food from the Khoi, and Khoi wariness of any attempts at permanent European settlement on their land. [415] It was not until 1652 that the Dutch permanently colonised the area around Table Bay. Jan Van Riebeeck, the Dutch Commander of this colony, was keen to establish viticulture at the Cape and made energetic efforts to achieve this end. Vine cuttings, sewn up in sailcloth, were sent to Van Riebeeck and he successfully planted grapevines in the newly established Company’s Garden in 1655.

From left to right:
(Click on a thumbnail to enlarge)
1. Frontispiece from Naaukeurige en uitvoerige
beschryving van die Kaap de Goede Hoop by
Kolbe [2]
2. Diagram of the initial layout of the Company
Gardens, with a small section of vines [13]
3. The initial layout of the gardens superimposed
on Cape Town in 1952. Note the position of the
S.A. Biblioteek, now the National Library [412]
A reproduction of Jan
van Riebeeck’s Journal [2]

On 2 February 1659 he wrote in his diary:
“Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes …” [2]

Journal entry for 2 February 1659 [2]




Although Van Riebeeck referred to them as his Spaanse drywe [Spanish grapes], researchers have identified these first vine plants as French rather than Spanish. It is possible that the ‘Spanish grapes’ were Hanepoot, known in France as Muscat d’Alexandrie. Steen vines, the French Chenin Blanc, were probably also introduced at this time. Van Riebeeck also planted vines at his own farm Boschheuwel, in Wynberg [Wine Mountain], and encouraged farmers to plant vineyards. While European soldiers would have supplied the vineyard labour during the first years of Dutch colonisation, wine farmers subsequently relied on slavery and other forms of forced labour. Slavery played a major role in ensuring the availability of labour for local wine production, and slaves were central to the success of the South African wine industry.

Simon van der Stel succeeded Jan Van Riebeeck as Dutch commander of the Cape in 1679. Van der Stel was both enthusiastic and knowledgeable about viticulture and winemaking and in 1695 he set out the model Constantia Estate with its historic Cape Dutch-style homestead, planting the vineyards according to the established norms of Europe as an example for other wineries at the Cape to follow.

Details from architectural drawings of Groot Constantia [15]

A history of Stellenbosch
from 1679 – 1929
published by the Town Council.
The woodcut is by Jacob
Hendrik Pierneef
(1886-1957) [8]

From the outset Constantia wines were superior and by 1778 when the estate was purchased by the Cloete’s, both red and white wines from Constantia were exported to Europe where they won wide acclaim. In 1679, soon after his arrival at the Cape, Simon van der Stel made a tour of inspection around the mountains known as the Hottentots Holland. On the return journey he visited a long verdant valley known as the Wildebosch, and he recognised that this valley would make excellent wine farming land. Van der Stel renamed it Stellenbosch – and it became the centre of the Cape wine industry.

From left to right:
(Click on a thumbnail to enlarge)
1. 1905 sketch of Groot Constantia
by G.D. Smithard [5]
2. Undated photograph of Groot Constantia taken
by S.P. Barnard [5a]
3. An entry for Expenditure (November 1896)
from an original Groot Constantia Account Book

It is widely believed that a further boost to the Cape wine industry was the arrival in the 1680’s of the French Huguenot settlers who immigrated here as a result of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. [402] and [405] They were granted land in the Franschhoek Valley, and their knowledge of viticulture and their ability to adapt established wine making techniques to the local conditions made a positive contribution to the wine industry. However, Leipoldt, in his book 300 years of Cape wine [32] queries the importance of the Huguenots in this respect. Leipoldt indicates that according to records there were barely three of the total number of new settlers who had any practical experience of wine-growing, and only one who knew anything about actually making wine.

Willem Adriaan van der Stel succeeded his father, Simon, as Governor of the Cape in 1699. [24] A competent farmer, Willem Adriaan carried out research into viticulture at his experimental farm Vergelegen at the foothills of the Hottentots Holland Mountains. Willem Adriaan compiled a comprehensive Gardeners’ Almanac [14] where he recorded his progress. This provides valuable glimpses into 18th century viticulture.

From left to right: (Click on a thumbnail to enlarge)
1. 1707 Diagram of Vergelegen [26]
2. Archaeological plan of the slave lodge at Vergelegen [411]
3. Front cover of the Gardeners’ Almanac, a very rare item in the National Library’s Grey Collection [14]

The 18th century was a difficult time for the wine industry. [386], [18] and [385] export markets were resistant to what were seen as inferior Cape wines (where Constantia wines were the exception) and the shortage of oak vats for aging wine led to poor quality wines. Wine-makers were also struggling to match successfully variety to land-type and district, and to adapt European winemaking techniques to local South African conditions. [21]

This section of Bird’s “State of the Cape in 1822” publication explores the reasons
for the poor quality of the wines [11] (Click on a thumbnail to enlarge)

Difficult times for the wine
industry - reflected in this
advert in an Almanac from
1839 [362]

In 1806 the British took possession of the Cape from the Dutch for the second time (following an earlier occupation from 1795-1802), and wine exports boomed as Britain’s war with France created new markets for Cape wines. A British decision to reduce customs duties on Cape wines to a third of that of its continental rivals added to the booming success of the local industry and in 1822, its best year, more than 10% of the wine consumed in Britain was imported from Cape Town. But three years later full customs duties were again imposed and the wine industry, together with the economy of the Cape, faltered. [19], [20]


Fluctuating tariffs over the next 100 years wreaked havoc in the local wine industry. In 1861, Great Britain, then at peace with France, lowered the tariffs on French wine imports, dealing a heavy blow to the South African wine industry. [17], [30] Exports dropped, and over-production became a serious problem. Further to this, specimens of wild grapevines reached France from America in the early 1860’s. In the soil around the roots of these specimens lived a species of aphid, Phylloxera vastatrix, which survived off the roots and leaves of the vines. While the American plants had become immune to the parasite, the more sensitive and cultivated European vine was not resistant and 75% of the European vineyards were wiped out. Phylloxera finally reached the Cape in 1885 and within a few years devastated the Cape winelands. [27]

From left to right: (Click on a thumbnail to enlarge)
1. This report from the Phylloxera Commission presents a
thorough overview of the disaster and the steps required to
ensure the survival of the industry. [27]
2. Life cycle of Phylloxera [113]

The certificate of Trademark [157]
Although the vineyards were devastated, there happened to be a good stockpile of wine during this time. The Cape Town Wine and Export Syndicate was formed in August 1889 “for the purpose of finding an export for the surplus production of Cape Wine” [157].

Despite being well managed by Baron van Babo, [28] and [31] the Government wine expert, and well supported by established men like “Onze Jan”, J.H.Hofmeyr and Cecil John Rhodes, the syndicate failed primarily because insufficient export markets were secured for the poor quality surplus wines.

From left to right: (Click on a thumbnail to enlarge)
1. Influential men such as Cecil Rhodes bought into the Syndicate [157]
2. The Director’s Report outlining the difficulties encountered in promoting local wine
to the export market [157]

Developments after 1900 [379]

It took about fifteen years to re-establish the Cape vineyards by grafting phylloxera-resistant imported rootstocks onto surviving vines. By 1904 the number of vines had increased to 78 million. However, wine exports were negligible and a large surplus once again accumulated. The problem of over-production - and the resultant low prices for wine - led to one of the most important developments for the South African wine industry: the co-operative movement. [401] In 1905, the government appointed a commission of inquiry [401] to look into the depression in the wine and spirit industry. With the aim of securing the benefit of collective bargaining and marketing, the commission recommended the creation of co-operative wineries in a bid to move away from the traditional system where farmers would compete with each other to market their own wine. A further benefit of co-operative wineries would be the more efficient use of plant and machinery. Farmers could choose whether to make their own wine and distribute it in barrels, or simply to deliver the grapes at harvest time and leave the wine production to the co-operative. The Drostdy Ko-operatiewe Keller Beperk was established in Tulbagh in 1906 as South Africa’s first co-operative winery. [16]

The oldest wine co-operative in South Africa, the original Drostdy, now restored
as the Tulbagh Wynkelder [264]

The first headquarters
of the KWV [35]

Nonetheless, over-production continued and millions of litres of wine were wasted. In response to the problem, the Ko-operatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereniging [35] van Zuid-Afrika – known world-wide as KWV - was founded on 8 January 1918 under the auspices of Charles W H Kohler. KWV provided wine farmers with a new unity, an all-important bargaining tool in relation to the wine merchants and a legal and administrative system which provided the basis for future development. The aim of KWV was to direct, control and regulate the sale of wine and fortified wine by its members and to secure for them an adequate return. In due course more than 95 percent of wine growers joined KWV and prices slowly rose.

Abraham Izak Perold and
Else Muller on their
wedding day in 1908 [33]


In 1924 the Smuts government passed the Wine and Spirit Control Act [34] empowering KWV to fix the minimum price to be paid to farmers for their distilling wine each year. The KWV were also entitled to fix production quotas and also developed control over what could be planted and where. At the same time, scientific viticulture was gaining acceptance in South Africa and in 1925 Professor Perold successfully cross-pollinated the Pinot Noir variety with Hermitage (Cinsaut) to develop South Africa’s own grape variety, Pinotage. The first Pinotage, a 1959 harvest bottled under the Lanzerac label, was marketed in 1961.


The pinotage grape leaf [33]

Further developments were hampered by the World Depression of the early 1930’s, but in 1935 an important new company was founded by William Charles Winshaw: the Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery. The SFW played a major role in educating the Cape wine palate. In partnership with Gabriel Krige, Winshaw began making and selling wine on a section of Adam Tas’ historic 1698 farm [414] now called Oude Libertas. Here the white wine La Gratitude and the red wine Chateau Libertas probably the best known, most popular easy-drinking South African red [102] were created; they have survived for more than 50 years at standards of consistent quality and popular appeal in everyday drinking wine.

The industry was also marked by the achievements of individuals such as Georg Canitz of Muratie, who bottled the first South African Pinot Noir in 1927 [346]. Johann Graue, who bought the Nederburg estate in 1936, used cold fermentation for making white table wine in the 1950’s and is known particularly for recognising the potential of Chenin Blanc as a classic white wine.[346]

The next few decades saw significant developments in controlling, and improving, the quality , production, pricing and profiling of South African wines. In 1940, the Wine and Sprit Control Amendment Act [400] was passed to control the price for ‘drinkwine’ and in 1945 the Distillers Corporation was founded. Among other achievments, Distell opened the first modern laboratory for research and quality control in 1946.

In 1950 Gilbeys South Africa was founded, originally to produce gin. A decade later the company was including wine in its range of interests, and made its headquarters at De Oude Molen in the Cape. In 1968 the company bought a wine farm, De Kleine Zalze, from where their first wine was incorporated into the Alphen Dry Red and Valley ranges. Gilbeys are known for marketing the first South African Zinfandel in 1975. [346]

Advertisement in “Vine and
Wine” in February 1965 [355]

Further scientific development took place with the establishment of the Viticultural and Oenological Research Institute at Nietvoorbij, outside Stellenbosch, in 1955. As a result of their research Lieberstein SFW’s semi-sweet table wine made from Chenin Blanc was released in 1959 and within 5 years became the worlds biggest selling bottled wine. This period also saw innovative wine-making techniques, which included widespread adoption of the cold fermentation technique introduced at Nederburg in the 1950’s.[346]

In 1971 the Stellenbosch Wine Route was opened by Frans Malan of Simonsig, Niel Joubert of Spier and Spatz Sperling of Delheim, after a visit to Burgundy [166]. This opened up to tourists the natural scenic beauty of the Cape winelands, some of the most beautiful in the world.

Two years later, in 1973, a comprehensive system of control was introduced by the Wine and Spirit Board for ‘wines of origin’. Thirteen areas of origin were designated and limitations were placed on the use of the term ‘estate’, vintage dates and grape variety. The Wine of Origin system was a guarantee to the consumer that what the producer claimed on the label was true of the contents of the bottle. The Wine and Spirit Board issues an official seal, popularly known as the ”bus ticket”, which is displayed on the bottle certifying the wine for origin, vintage or cultivar. Labels may also reveal the composition of grape varieties in a blend. An identification number is placed on the seal to record the history of each wine to the day that it was harvested.

The Wine of Origin system of seals [123]

Hand in hand with the Wine of Origin system came the principle of the “wine estate”, with winemakers committing themselves to bottling wine from grapes grown on their own properties. The name of the estate stood for a guarantee of integrity and quality.
South Africans were at last becoming true wine lovers, and exploring new tastes. Thus Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Pinotage became red varieties of note, while white wines were represented by Riesling, Colombard and Chenin Blanc. In 1975 the first auction of Rare Cape Wines was held at Nederburg and five years on the Cape Wine Academy was founded in Stellenbosch by SFW, with courses for the general public as well as for the trade. The inaugural Veritas Awards, South Africa’s most acclaimed wine competition, were held in 1991. [345]

The Cape wine scene has come into its own in the last decade. Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 impacted strongly on the South African wine industry and on the acceptability of South African wines in the international arena. Cape wines became the flavour of the month in the United Kingdom, and imports soared from less than 1 million cases of wine in 1990 to over 11 million cases in 1996. [246]

The release that started a chain
reaction that affected the way
of life of all in South Africa

In 1992 the existing quota system controlled by the KWV for so many years was abolished [34], [102], giving forward-thinking farmers carte blanche to explore new areas of wine production. Five years later KWV transformed from a co-operative to a private company. In mid-2002 KWV announced further restructuring plans which culminated in the foundation of a new co-operative producer body – provisionally named Wijngaard Co-operative. The historical meeting was held in the stately old KWV boardroom where the KWV Co-operative board was dissolved and Wijngaard officially founded with elections for its leaders. [405]

Meanwhile in February 1999, the South African Wine Industry Trust (SAWIT) was established by the Minister of Agriculture and KWV to:
1. fund and manage generic promotion and research for the South African wine industry,
2. assist with the establishment of new farmers from historically disadvantaged communities, and to
3. promote the development of farm worker communities.

By the end of 2000 the wine industry was marked by the formation of new groupings, co-operative wine cellars converting into companies and general restructuring. The most far-reaching of these was the merging of two major producing wholesalers, Stellenbosch Farmers Winery and the Distillers Corporation, to form Distell whose brands are sold in seventy countries throughout the world.

The South African Wines & Spirits Exporters Association (SAWSEA) was renamed Wines of South Africa (WOSA) in 2000. With offices in London and a new logo, WOSA aims to promote South African wines in export markets and advance the long-term profitability of the South African wine industry. [260]

The end of 2002 saw the formation of the South African Wine and Brandy Company (SAWB), which draws together stakeholders from all sectors of the wine industry to implement Vision 2020 aimed at bringing about social and economic transformation and making the industry globally competitive. [314]

Initiated by Winetech in 1999, the aim of Vision 2020 was to design specific and detailed strategies for the 3 wine industry sectors (wine, brandy and wine distillates) and other grape-based products. The new vision foresees a South African wine industry that is innovation-driven, market-directed, globally competitive and highly profitable, while retaining strong cultural roots which reflect good citizenship and social responsibility. It is envisaged that this will be achieved by instituting ethical trade practices and meaningful social responsibility programmes and by including the implementation of meaningful strategies for affirmative action.[346]

In June 2003 the Wine Industry Plan (WIP) [the industry’s equivalent of the Mining Charter] became available as a discussion document. The Plan evolved out of Vision 2020 and the Black Economic Empowerment Commission Report. Its purpose is to give direction to the wine industry by integrating Vision 2020 into the government’s “Agricultural Sector Strategy Plan”. [314] The strategic goal of the Wine Industry Plan is: “To generate equitable access and participation in a globally competitive, profitable and sustainable agricultural sector contributing to a better life for all.”