The Stellenbosch Wine Region: The Heart of South Africa's Wine Industry

Stellenbosch is synonymous with South African winemaking.  South Africa's second-oldest town was founded in 1679 by Dutch settlers; the first wine grapes were planted not long after that, mainly by Huguenots who left France to find a new home.  Settlers began establishing wine estates in the early 1680s, so it is not surprising that the town of Stellenbosch has lent its name to the wine region that surrounds it.  Traditionally famous for its white wines, Stellenbosch has reinvented itself in recent years, changing focus and emphasizing production of quality red wines.

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Stellenbosch History

The fortunes of Stellenbosch's wine industry have been tied to South Africa's history from the earliest days of Dutch settlement.  During the early 1800s, Stellenbosch wines, as well as other wines from South Africa, found a ready market because of the war between France and Britain.  Unfortunately for Stellenbosch's wine producers, the industry collapsed later in the 19th century when Britain and France made peace.  Phylloxera arrived 25 years later, devastating the vineyards and forcing growers to replant.  Just as recovery seemed likely, the Anglo-Boer War began in South Africa itself.

The 20th century ushered in a period of renewal for the wine industry, spearheaded by the Ko-operatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Beperkt, or KWV, a cooperative that attempted to restabilize the wine market by controlling prices and supply.  While opinions differ on the effectiveness of the KWV's efforts, the cooperative set the stage for expansion of South Africa's modern wine industry.  The University of Stellenbosch opened in 1918; today the university is one of South Africa's leading centers of education for winemakers.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

In 1935, two local winemakers established the Stellenbosch Farmers' Winery Limited (SFW) with the intention of making and marketing Stellenbosch wines for export.  SFW launched several successful wines, including the wildly popular Lieberstein, putting Stellenbosch wines firmly onto the world wine map.  SFW merged with Distillers Corporation to form Distell in 2000.

By the 1970s, Stellenbosch wine producers were ready to develop wine tourism in their region.  They established the Stellenbosch Wine Route, South Africa's first, in 1971; today this route, expanded into five separate sub-routes, is known as the Stellenbosch American Express ®Wine Routes.

The 1970s also heralded the passage of South Africa's Wine of Origin laws.  Unfortunately, South African wine producers encountered difficulty exporting their wines, due in large part to the policy of apartheid in force at the time.  When activist Nelson Mandela won election to South Africa's presidency in 1994, other nations took notice and began to import South African wines in greater quantities.  Today, the United Kingdom imports more South African wine than any other country.