HISTORY OF AFRICA WINES UNDER BRITISH AND FRENCH COLONIALISM
When it comes to wine-producing continents, Africa is often relegated to the bottom of the list, if not completely forgotten. Though most African countries are not so keen on viticulture or winemaking, several have notable wines built on the pillars of history. Given that there is minimal wine production in Africa compared to other winemaking continents and countries, one is forced to wonder whether the British and French, who colonized most of the African countries, did not leave their well-known wine-loving legacy behind.
The growth of Islam in Northern Africa stalled the popularity of wine as religious doctrines frowned against 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 more than viticulture as its economy relies heavily on food production and export.
The small percentage of wine cultivated is primarily for export purposes and is centered around Northern and Southern Africa. The relationship between wine and Northern Africa dates to ancient times. It began with Egypt and then flowed to the Mediterranean coastal regions that settled at Carthage (now known as Tunisia). Another interesting historical tidbit is that European colonialism kicked off in Africa in 1814 when the British hijacked South Africa from the Dutch. Subsequently, the French, Germans, and Portuguese also laid their claims on different parts of Africa.
History of Wine in Some African Countries
Like most African countries, Algeria is not a strong force on the wine-growing map. However, they have long produced wine since the Phoenicians settled on the land. Winemaking in Algeria flourished under Roman rule until the Muslim conquests occurred in the 7th and 8th centuries. When the French colonized Algeria on the fifth of August 1830, vineyards became popular again, owning to the demands of the pieds-noir. However, a phylloxera epidemic attacked many French vineyards in the mid-19th century, which caused Algerian wine to be exported to France to compensate for the loss.
Like Algeria, winemaking in Tunisia began with the Phoenician settlers upon the introduction of Carthage, and wine cultivation continued well into Roman rule in 146 BC. Then Arabs took over Tunisia in the 8th century AD, severely hampered wine activity. 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 became a shadow of their former selves.
It is no surprise that Morocco has the same colonial wine history as its neighboring countries, Algeria and Tunisia. However, while Tunisia and Algeria produced wines in large quantities, Moroccan wine lagged despite the French’s influence. When Morocco gained independence on the 2nd of May 1956, there were about 55,000 hectares of wine cultivation. Surprisingly, even when the French left Morocco after independence, winemaking continued in the country up until the 1960s. Until the EEC implemented quotas in 1967, which resulted in a considerable decrease in the prior export to the EEC countries, winemaking was still practiced in Morocco. A large amount of wine production became unprofitable due to limited access to the traditional market and competition from overproduction in other Mediterranean countries. A sizeable portion of Morocco’s vineyards were cleared and replaced with other crops. The Moroccan government also seized most of the vineyards between 1973 and 1984. And the state implemented policies incompatible with recovering competitiveness, such as fixed prices for grapes regardless of quality, and administered its vineyard poorly.
South African wines are known as one of the New World Wines. The country’s winemaking history dates to the Dutch East Indian company, which had a supply station at the cape of good hope. South Africa surrendered to British rule in the 19th century (1815-1910), which benefitted the winemaking country. South African wine boomed as it made its way into the British market. The country enjoyed this boom until the 1860s when the French Government reduced the tariffs that benefited South African wine exports more than the French’s.
Exploring the South African Wine Route
Unlike its southern neighbor, South Africa, Winemaking in Namibia is challenging. This is primarily due to its dry climate; thus, irrigation is necessary. Also, it is closer to the equator, which is a long way from the typical “30 to 50 degrees latitude”. Nonetheless, the country still has a viticultural history. Winemaking in Namibia began on the 24th of April 1884 when the Germans took control of the country. Unlike other countries on our list, Namibia was not colonized by the French or British but by the Germans. Roman catholic priests from Germany were the first to plant vineyards in Namibia. In the late 1960s, Namibia’s winemaking potential came to a dead end when the last Roman priests died, and the vineyards were promptly replaced with schools and churches.
Of all the countries on the list, Senegal is the most surprising. Despite the French ruling this African country for nearly three centuries till 1960, there has never been any winemaking attempt in Senegal. It was only until 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.
This Day in Wine History
August 5, 1830: The French colonized Algeria. After that, vineyards became popular again, owning to the demands of the pieds-noir.
April 28 to December 23, 1881: Before the French conquered Tunisia from the 28th of April to the 23rd of December 1881, the country discovered large-scale wine production and maintained production until its independence in 1956.
May 2, 1956: Morocco gained independence, and there were about 55,000 hectares of wine cultivation. Surprisingly, even when the French left Morocco after independence, winemaking continued in the country up until the 1960s.
April 24, 1884: Winemaking started in Namibia when the Germans took control of the country.
- Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford, 2006), pp. 11–12
- Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford, 2006), pp. 719
- Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford, 2006), pp. 453–454
- De Bosdari, Wines of the Cape (1955)
- https://www.namibian.com.na [accessed 23/2/22]
- https://www.wine-explorers.net/en/travelog/senegal-makes-wine-at-the-foot-of-the-baobabs [accessed 23/2/22]