South Africa’s oldest wine estatesBy Lauren Eads
South Africa might be considered a new world wine region, but its winemaking history dates back some 300 years.
South Africa’s first vines were planted in 1652 by Dutch surgeon, Jan van Riebeeck, when the Dutch East India Company first landed in Cape Town.
However the country’s first vines were not planted with the intention of making wine, rather to produce grapes to help ward off scurvy among sailors voyaging the Spice Route.
It wasn’t until 1659 that the the first grapes were crushed, and some 25 years later that the country’s first wine region was established.
In 1685 Simon van der Stel purchased 750 hectares of vines just outside of Cape Town establishing what is now known as Constantia – a region later divided into several estates.
For much of the 20th century South Africa’s wine industry went largely under the radar affected by boycotts of South African products in protest against the country’s system of Apartheid.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s and 1990s when Apartheid ended that the world’s export market started to open up for South African wines.
Today South African wines are absolutely represented on the world stage gaining international recognition for well-known varieties such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, as well as the divisive flagship grape, Pinotage.
Scroll through to explore some of South Africa’s oldest estates…
Have we missed any? Comment below to let us know.
Meerlust – 1693, Stellenbosch
The Meerlust Estate was first founded in 1693 by its first owner, a German immigrant named Henning Huising. Then, in 1756, it was sold to the Myburgh family, who have tended the vines ever since across eight generations. Located 15km south of Stellenbosch.The estate was fictionalised by American novelist James Michener who visited the estate in 1978 using it as inspiration for his novel “The Covenant”. The estate is best known for its Bordeaux-style Rubicon blend.
Vergelegen – 1700, Somerset West
Vergelegen was first settled in 1700 by an early Governor of the Cape, Willem Adriaan van der Stel. Van der Stel illegally used the resources of his employer, the Dutch East India Company, to improve the estate. When his activities came to light in 1706 he was sacked and much of the estate was sold off. In 1798 it was bought by the Theunissen family who began cultivating vines, until the phylloxera broke out in the late nineteenth century wiping out much of its grapes. It was later purchased by millionaire mine magnate Sir Lionel Phillips in 1917 and after his death was sold at auction to the Barlow Family in 1941 and, since 1987, has been owned by AngloAmerican – a multinational mining company headquartered in London and the world’s largest producer of platinum.
Allée Bleue – 1690, Franschhoek Valley
Known as one of the oldest wine farms in the Cape, Allée Bleue is situated in the Franschhoek (French corner) Valley, which was settled by the French Huguenots who first arrived there in the late 1600s. Most recently, the estate was bought by Friedrich-Wilhelm and Elke Dauphin in 1999 who brought fresh vigour to the estate. Today, both red and white wines are produced with an “entrée level” (blue label) range; a white label (premier) range and two flagship wines Isabeau (a white blend) and L’Amour Toujours (a red blend).
Rust en Vrede – 1694, Stellenbosch
Rust en Vrede’s estate was established in 1694 by the then Governor of the Cape, Willem Adrian van der Stel. In the early 1700’s it was was divided into two properties with the original section remaining as Rust en Vrede. However it wasn’t until 1977, when it was bought by Springbok rugby legend Jannie Engelbrecht, that its winemaking traditions were revived producing the first vintage of the modern era with the intention of producing only red wines, focusing on Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot.
Blaauwklippen – 1682, Stellenbosch
Located in Stellenbosch, the name Blaauwklippen comes from the dutch word meaning “blue rocks”. Blaauwklippen is one of the oldest wine farms in South Africa dating back to 1682 when it was founded by Gerrit Jansz Visser, however its first vineyards were planted in 1688. Today it produces a red range of mostly red grape varities such as Malbec, Shiraz and Zinfandel, alongside a range of speciality brandies.
Klein Constantia – 1685 (1817), Constantia
Constantia is South Africa’s oldest wine region having been founded in 1685 by Simon van der Stel. When Stel died it was divided into three farms with Hendrik Cloete taking over the majority. When he died in 1817 it was divided again into two estates and passed down to his two sons Johan Gerhard who took one half calling it Klein (Little) Constantia…
Groot Constantia – 1685 (1817), Constantia
… and Jacob Pieter who inherited Groot (Big) Constantia, widely cited as the country’s oldest estate. It’s heritage stretches back to the formation of Constantia, South Africa’s oldest wine region, and is thereby linked to the country’s very first grape plantings in 1652. Today the estate is one of South Africa’s most visited tourist attractions.
Boschendal Winery – 1688, Franschhoek
With a French viticultural heritage dating back to 1688 with the arrival of the French Huguenots, Boschendal is another of South Africa’s oldest wine estates. Not much is known about the estate’s first owner, however what is known is that the estate was sold to Abraham de Villiers in 1688 – whose family presided over it until 1879. It passed through a number of owners before being most recently purchased by a consortium of investors in 2003 named The Boschendal Treasury Trust. Today the estate is recognised as a national monument and produces a wide range of well-regarded wines.
Rustenberg – 1682, Stellenbosch
Another of South Africa’s oldest wineries, Rustenberg claim a history dating back to 1682 when a man named Roelof Pasman first recognised its wine-growing potential. The first record of wine being sold off the property is a receipt for brandy sold to a midwife in 1692. By 1781 some 3,000 cases of wine were being produced on the farm with production doubling by the end of the century. The estate proudly claims to have been bottling wine for an unbroken period since 1892. Most recently, the estate was bought by Peter and Pamela Barlow in 1941 with their son Simon taking over the running of the farm in 1987. Today, the estate is known for its flagship Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines.