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IIn 1652 the Dutch East India Company dispatched Jan van Riebeeck to erect a fort and lay out a garden in Table Bay. Five years later the first farmers started to work their own land and in 1659 van Riebeeck recorded the making of the first wine in the Cape.
The South African wine industry is still heavily focused in the Western Cape region. With its Mediterranean climate, soils, and the influence of the Atlantic and Indian oceans' air, it is ideal for grape growing. The first wines from the South Africa winelands were made from indigenous wild grapes, but later French vines were planted - including chenin blanc and muscat.
The industry received a huge boost in 1686 when a large number of Huguenot religious refugees arrived from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Most of them came from wine-growing regions, bringing with them their knowledge and skills. Many chose to live in what is now Franschhoek near Stellenbosch, their farms still linked to France through names such as La Motte, Cabriere, Provence and Dieu Donne.
In 1866 the winelands were devastated by phylloxera, the vine root-killing bug. This led to a massive replanting of South African winelands, which laid the foundation for the current industry structure of cooperatives and private producers. These cater for the entire spectrum from everyday consumption to high-end quality wines, many of which have won international acclaim.
While most of the grapes from the winelands of South Africa will be familiar to visitors, there is one uniquely South African viticultural cross - pinotage. Bred by Professor Abraham Perold at Stellenbosch University in 1925 from pinot noir and cinsaut, it produces a deep red wine with smoky, earthy flavours. It is also often blended or made into fortified and sparkling wines.
Travel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Regional tourism offices will have details of the wineries in the areas you want to visit.
Production zones in South Africa are divided into officially demarcated Wine of Origin geographical units, regions, districts and wards. Depending on which region you are visiting in the Western Cape, for example, you can be in the Breede River Valley, Cape South Coast, Coastal Region, Klein Karoo and Olifants River districts or in Boberg district for fortified wines from Paarl, Franschhoek, Wellington and Tulbagh. Another five geographical units exist in the Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Northern Cape. The South African winelands encompass 28 diverse districts and some 77 smaller wards in total.
How to get here
The majority of South Africa's wine farms are found in the Western Cape, in a relatively small area. Cape Town is the closest major city to most of the well-known wine farms.
Best time to visit
Winter can be wet so spring and summer are the best times to visit.
Things to do
Wine tasting and winery tours are available at most wineries. Look out for wine pairing options at winery restaurants and tasting rooms.
What to pack
A hat and sunscreen. If it's winter, a raincoat or umbrella.
What to eat
Most wine farms have top-class restaurants on their premises.