Oenology in South Africa began with the arrival of the very first settlers from Europe, towards the mid-1600s.
At that time the young Dutch surgeon Jan van Riebeek (who later became Governor) understood the need to provide wine and spirits to the crews of the Dutch India Company, stopping at the Cape of Good Hope and en route to the Far East. He thus brought in some Chenin Blanc vines from France and Moscato vines from Alessandria (Italy) and, after several attempts, in 1659 he recorded the first wine production in South Africa . In his diary dated 2 February 1659 it is written: “…. today, praise the Lord, for the first time we made wine with Cape grapes."
The next Governor, Simon Van der Stel, arrived in South Africa in 1679 and shortly after founded Constantia (in Stellenbosch - Cape Town), the most prestigious winery in the entire wine history of South Africa. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), around 200 Protestant French Huguenot refugees arrived in Cape Town, fleeing religious persecution in their country. They brought all their experience of winemaking practices to Constantia. Thus it was that those wines became the only ones from the so-called " New World " to challenge the wines produced in Europe, and remained the favorites of the Royal Courts for many years. Napoleon himself, in exile on the island of St. Helena, ordered Constantia wines.
South African wines today
Currently the grapes grown in South Africa are almost all of French origin, while Pinotage is local, a cross between Pinot Noir and Hermitage (the term by which the Cinsaut vine was known). The vine was created in 1925 in the Faculty of Oenology of Stellenbosch and the popularity of this grape is today an undeniable sign of recognition and distinction of South Africa. The most important area for production is the one that coincides with the oenological origins of the country : the part of the Cape of Good Hope, whose latitude corresponds, on the other side of the Equator, to that of Tripoli.
The most cultivated white grape varieties are Chenin Blanc, known locally as Steen, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc . There is no shortage of some historic and well-known grapes at a national level, such as Cape Riesling and Hanepoot (Muscat of Alexandria).
Among the red grape varieties, Pinotage , Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot and Syrah, which in South Africa is called Shiraz , stand out.