South Africa: An Old Wine Region Beginning To Realize Its Potential

By John ~ February 3rd, 2009.

20090203_fairviewsaYou probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you that the wine industry in South Africa dates back to 1659, but it’s true. In fact, South African wine celebrated its 350th birthday yesterday. During the 1700’s one of the most expensive and sought after wines in the world was Vin de Constance, or “Constantia,” a sweet Muscat wine from the Western Cape of South Africa. Over the past 100 years, the wine industry, like the rest of South Africa, has ridden a rollercoaster of political and economic highs and lows as apartheid caused most of the developed world to boycott all forms of trade with South Africa. (Photo from Fairview)

After apartheid ended in 1994, South Africa re-emerged onto the world scene, but it has taken time for its wine industry to replant, rebuild, and rebound. Today, South Africa is again becoming a factor in the world of wine. With favorable exchange rates to the dollar, South African wines are generally reasonably priced.  Our mission over the next month is to assess the quality in relation to price and see how South African wines stack up.

As you read this post, LaGayle and I are on our way to Cape Town to visit the major winelands (as they call them) of the Western Cape and taste as many of their wines as we can that are available in the United States. While Steen (Chenin Blanc) and Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault) have historically been the big two varietals in South Africa, major replanting in recent years has focused on the big five international varieties, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

We’ll be reporting our findings in coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Filed under: South African Wine, Wine Travel

Reader's Comments

  1. Paul Zitarelli | February 3rd, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    John –

    My wife and I are considering a trip to South Africa for World Cup 2010, so I will be paying rapt attention to hear if we can combine that trip with some great wines. Safe travels!

    – Paul

  2. John | February 4th, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Just arrived a few hours ago. Cape Town is doing a major airport renovation/expansion in preparation for the World Cup. I, too, hope that we’ll find some great wines at decent prices.
    Will keep you posted through this blog.

  3. Rose | February 11th, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Hey..On your visit to wine lands of Cape Town, don’t forget to taste the wines of Perdeberg Winery. Their Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are amongst some of their award wining wines. When I went to Perdeberg winery ( with my friend Johnson, we visited the entire place, saw how they make wine and ofcourse tried their famous wines.

  4. John | February 12th, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Thanks for the heads-up on Perdeberg. I’ll try to check it out. Please keep in mind, however, that I am trying to visit as many wine farms as possible in a relatively short period of time, so inevitably there will be some good ones that I miss on this trip.

  5. Grant | February 12th, 2009 at 7:39 pm


    Not sure if you are still out there but if you want to drop around to Haskell Vineyards in the Helderberg part of Stellenbosch we’ll be happy to show you around and let you taste some cracking wines! 🙂

    Enjoy the trip.

  6. John | February 13th, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Thanks for your comment and your kind offer. Unfortunately, yesterday was our last day in Stellenbosch. Maybe we can see you next time. In the meantime, if you sell your wines in the US, maybe you could ask your distributor to send us some samples to taste.