A History of African Wines Under British and French Colonialism
When it comes to wine-producing continents, Africa is often seen at the bottom of the list, if not completely forgotten. Although most African countries aren’t known for viticulture or winemaking, several have notable wines built into their complex colonial histories.
Given that there is minimal wine production in Africa compared to other winemaking continents and countries, one must wonder whether the British and French, who colonized most of the African countries, left their wine-loving legacy behind.
The growth of Islam in Northern Africa also stalled the popularity of wine, as the religious doctrines frown upon the consumption of wine. However, countries like Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria practiced wine cultivation primarily because of the influence of French colonialism.
Africa prioritizes agriculture over viticulture as its economy relies heavily on food production and export. The small percentage of wine cultivated in the region is primarily for export purposes and is centered around Northern and Southern Africa. The relationship between wine and Northern Africa dates back to ancient times; it began with Egypt and then flowed to the Mediterranean coastal regions that settled at Carthage (now known as Tunisia).
The History of Wine in Some African Countries…
Like most African countries, Algeria isn’t a strong force in the wine world today, but they have produced wine since the Phoenicians settled on the land. Winemaking in Algeria flourished under Roman rule until the Muslim conquests in the 7th and 8th century.
When the French colonized Algeria in 1830, vineyards became popular again, owing to the demands of the French expats. A phylloxera epidemic attacked a large percentage of French vineyards in the mid-19th Century, so large amounts of Algerian wine was exported to France to compensate for the loss.1
Like Algeria, winemaking in Tunisia began with Phoenician settlers and the growth of the city of Carthage. Wine cultivation continued well into Roman rule in 146 BC. After that, Arabs took over Tunisia in the 8th century AD, severely limiting wine production. Before the French conquered Tunisia in 1881, the country discovered large-scale wine production and maintained production until its independence in 1956. Sadly, the country lacked winemaking expertise, and the vineyards soon ceased to thrive.2
It is no surprise that Morocco has the same colonial wine history as its neighbors, Algeria and Tunisia. While Tunisia and Algeria produced wines in large quantities, Morrocan wine lagged behind despite its French influence. When Morocco gained independence in 1956, about 55,000 hectares of land were dedicated to wine cultivation. Surprisingly, even when the French left Morocco after their independence, winemaking continued in the country up until the 1960s.3
South African wines are well known in the wine world. The country’s winemaking history dates back to the Dutch East Indian Company, which had a supply station at the Cape of Good Hope. In the 19th Century, South Africa surrendered to British rule, which benefitted the winemaking industry.
The South African wine industry boomed as it began to be imported into the British market. The country enjoyed this boom until the 1860s when the French Government reduced the tariffs that had previously caused South African wine to be cheaper than French wine.4
Unlike its southern neighbor, South Africa, winemaking in Namibia has proven to be quite challenging largely due to its dry climate and need for irrigation. Located closer to the equator, it is far from the common “30 to 50 degrees latitude” rule. Nonetheless, the country still has a viticultural history. Unlike other countries on our list, Namibia wasn’t colonized by the French or British, but rather by the Germans.5
Winemaking in Namibia began in 1884 when Germans took control of the country. Roman Catholic Priests from Germany were the first to plant vineyards in Namibia.5 In the late 1960s, Namibia’s winemaking potential came to a halt when the last Catholic Priests died. The vineyards were promptly replaced with schools and churches.
Despite French rule in Senegal for nearly three centuries until 1960, there has never been any winemaking attempt in Senegal. It was only in January 2013 that two ambitious men, Philippe Francois and Francois Norman, planted the first wine grapes in Senegal, including Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsaut, Syrah, and Sangiovese.6