Tuesday, November 17, 2009

350 Years of South African Viniculture

Earlier this year, the South African wine industry celebrated its 350th anniversary. It owes much to the contributions of the French Huguenots skilled in winemaking who arrived on the Cape of Good Hope in 1688, but it began with vines first planted by Jan Van Riebeeck, who came to the Cape in 1652 to establish a trading station to support the Dutch East India Company, and is credited with founding the Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk, or Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, that same year. In 1655, vines were shipped to the Cape from France, the Rhineland and Spain. Van Riebeeck planted 1,000 vines on his own farm in 1658 and, the following year, he recorded a famous entry in his journal, which, it is said, "placed South Africa as the 11th country to cultivate the vine, following just behind California’s initial grape crops in 1600."

Jan Van Riebeeck, Diary, 2 February 1659:

Today -- glory be to God -- wine was pressed for the first time from the Cape grapes...it consisted mostly of the Muscadel and other white round grapes, of fine flavour and taste. The Spanish grapes are still green; many stocks are quite full with them, and it is expected that they will yield abundantly....The return fleet will arrive just in time for the young wine and old beer, when all the kinds of fruit will be ripe...

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