South Africa Wine Industry Before and After Apartheid

South Africa is an old wine-producing country dating back to the 17th century. Since the first grapes were pressed in 1659, the country has faced a conflicted history of slavery and discrimination in the wine industry and every sector of the economy. Apartheid was the major period where segregation and discriminative working conditions were rampant. Understanding the current wine industry is possible through exploration of the industry from 1652 until after apartheid.

Figure 1: Groot Constantia by Tjeerd Wiersma – Flickr

First Vineyards Planted

The South African wine industry dates to 1652 when Jan Van Riebeeck led the first Dutch settlers into Table Bay in Cape Province. Riebeeck founded a provisioning station for Dutch merchants traveling from Europe to the Far East.[1] His company, the Dutch East India Company, settled in the western part of Cape Province, planting the first vineyards.

They brought grapevines from France, which produced the first wine in South Africa. Riebeeck noted in his diary that the first grapes were pressed in the Cape in 1659. Riebeeck, a surgeon, later became the first governor of the Cape Province.

Figure 2: Green Grapes on Brown Wooden Stick by Tayler Kohler – Unsplash

The early grapes planted in South Africa were of low quality, but their demand was nevertheless high due to the number of sailors docking at the bay. It was not until 1688, when French Huguenot refugees arrived in the settlement, that grape quality improved.[2] The Huguenots introduced superior viticulture practices learned in their home country, France, and new superior grape varieties. As a result, winemaking improved in the region. Wine later grew, and South African wine made waves in the world market in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Apartheid and wine

Figure 3: Die Mas vineyard, Wine Route, Upington, Northern Cape, South Africa by South African Tourism – Flickr

Origin of Segregation

From the first instance, white settlers tried segregating themselves from the blacks they found in the Cape. The natives, Khoisan, were not accustomed to farming and were sparsely populated. Labor was necessary with the first white settlements and the introduction of viticulture. The Khoisan were uncooperative, and the Dutch East India Company had to bring slaves from East Indies, Madagascar, and East Africa to work on these farms. Their introduction only increased the segregation between the white settlers and blacks. Besides, the introduction of enslaved people led to the rise of a mixed-race population in winemaking regions. The mixed race formed most of the Western Cape population, up to 60 percent by 1991. The earliest labor practices in the South African wine industry remained unchanged until after the end of apartheid.

Wine Production Before Apartheid

The earliest vineyards in South Africa were white-owned, while the black people were mostly workers. As earlier mentioned, in the seventeenth century, slaves were brought from different parts of the world to work on these farms. The native Khoisan were resistant to subjugation by the Dutch Settlers under the leadership of Riebeeck.[3] Consequently, they led several uprisings against the settlers and could not be utilized for viticulture. These conditions forced Riebeeck to bring slaves from other parts of Africa, Indonesia, and the East Indies.

The earlier developments led to a paternalistic and dependent relationship between the white settlers and blacks. Black people, in this case refer to every other group of people apart from the white settlers. The enslaved people provided labor in vineyards and wineries until slavery was abolished in 1834.

After slavery was abolished, former slaves were allowed to learn trades and engage in economic activities. In vineyards, they were paid wages, although meager, keeping them in a cycle of debt. In addition, this meant their lives never changed even though slavery had been abolished. Working conditions remained poor, and wages were low. There also developed two classes of workers, including seasonal and permanent workers. Permanent workers resided on the farms and worked in the vineyards and wineries. Farm owners developed stores where these workers could buy supplies.

Besides, they were afforded wine, food, and housing as part of the payment. This practice continued until the 20th century. Also, after slavery was abolished, some relocated to Cape Town and other regions engaging in different activities.


Apartheid dates to the 1913 Natives Lands Act, which led to dispossessing natives of their land and barring them from land ownership.[4] The Act led to the relocation of black people to poor homelands and poorly serviced towns. As a result, apartheid led to socio-economic challenges facing the country. These conditions escalated in 1948 after an all-white government enforced racially motivated laws. The agricultural sector, especially viticulture, was one of the greatly affected.

Apartheid and wine

Figure 4: Apartheid in South Africa by United Nations photo

Western Cape, the largest wine-producing region in South Africa, was out of bounds for non-white citizens leading to primarily white vineyard owners. Non-white citizens were reduced to laborers in these vineyards. These regulations stalled the growth of the wine industry as foreign players sanctioned the country in response to the segregation.[5] Besides, wine consumption was limited to white citizens. The rest of the country was encouraged to drink beer, which was considered racist by the ruling party.

Only the black people working on farms were allowed to drink wine, albeit dreg wine. The apartheid government implemented several policies, such as offering subsidies to landowners and helping white farmers improve wine production. These policies led to a stark difference between whites and non-white citizens after apartheid.

Post-Apartheid Wine Industry

Figure 5: Grape Vines

The apartheid government ended in the early 1990s after a series of reforms and events led to the formation of a democratic government in 1994. Post-apartheid South African wine industry burgeoned with the introduction of land reforms and trading acts. Land appropriation, in particular, saw black-owned vineyards and the rise of black-produced wine. However, blacks had to pool together grants offered by the government to afford to purchase land in a willing seller-willing buyer land appropriation agreement.

Sanctions were lifted, leading to increased wine exports into the international market. The end of apartheid led to the rise in popularity of South African Wines in the global market. Sanctions were a major change in the South African agricultural sector. Unlike other products, such as fruits that do not include the place of origin, wine must include, and this is an important part of wine marketing. Including the place of origin for wine meant south African wines could not be sold in the international market due to sanctions.

However, when apartheid ended, sanctions were lifted, and South African wines again found their way into the global wine market.

Figure 6: Zorgvliet Wines, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa by South African Tourism – Flickr

In Western Cape, wine tourism flourished, and activities such as wine tours and tastings increased. While local white tourists increased, they paid little compared to European tourists. Until 2004, wine tourism led as the main source of income in the region. In the preceding years, several reforms have led to the rise of black-owned vineyards, wineries, and Fair Trade. Despite these, inequalities still exist resulting from apartheid. In addition, foreign parties pressured the new government to adopt more liberal policies influencing wine production.

Did You Know: The most planted grape in South Africa today is Chenin Blanc.

A major development was the rise of Fair-Trade Certification for vineyards which called for, among other things, at least 25 percent ownership of vineyards by farm workers, better wages, capacity building, good housing, and worker involvement in the operational management of vineyards.[6] These changes have dramatically changed the South African wine industry, making it the eighth-largest wine-producing country today.[7]

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This Day in Wine History

February 2, 1659 – The first wine was made in South Africa. The country’s early history dates to 1652, when the Dutch East India Company docked in Table Bay in the Cape of Good Hope, founding a provisioning stop for Dutch sailors headed to the Far East from Europe. Jan van Riebeeck oversaw the company and planted the first vineyards. Originally, grapes were produced for consumption until they were also used for warding off scurvy for Dutch sailors stopping at the Cape. Vineyards planted at this Cape founded the South African wine industry. Its wines were popular in the global market in the 18th and 19th centuries.

June 19, 1913 – On this day, the Natives Land Act became law. The law disposed of natives of their land, leading to an 87 percent white land ownership. As a result, the majority of vineyards in the 20th century in South Africa were white-owned. The Act contributed to inequality in vineyard ownership, which continued even after it was repealed in the reforms post-apartheid. The Act’s impacts are still felt as most vineyards, especially in Western Cape, are white-owned. Land reforms post-apartheid have improved this condition but with little success.

April 2, 1993 – On this day, the wines of origin scheme, adopted in 1973, was amended to include geographical demarcations.[8] The wines of origin scheme is important in the wine industry as it protects producers and consumers. The scheme has been under operation in European wine-producing countries and was adopted by the South African government in 1973. The amendment was integral in updating it to other world standards and put South African wines on the same level as European wines, aligning with European standards. The wines of origin also incorporated climatic conditions. The scheme has its unique criterion for identifying a wine’s origin. The lowest is a single vineyard, followed by estate wine, ward, districts, and regions. The scheme aided in selling South African wines in the global market after apartheid.

Want to read more? Try these books!

The wines of South Africa- 9781913022037 (Classic Wine Library) Wines of the New South Africa- Tradition and Revolution

Wine Pairing Recommendation


[1] Imre Josef Demhardt, “Wine and Tourism at the ‘Fairest Cape,’” Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing 14, no. 3-4 (November 18, 2003): 113–30,

[2] William G. Moseley, “Fair Trade Wine: South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Vineyards and the Global Economy,” Globalizations 5, no. 2 (June 2008): 291–304,

[3] Moseley, Fair Trade Wine: South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Vineyards and the Global Economy, 294

[4] Julian R.D. Cobbing, “South Africa – Segregation,” Encyclopedia Britannica, July 17, 2022,

[5] Demhardt, Wine and Tourism at the ‘Fairest Cape,’ 117

[6] Moseley, Fair Trade Wine: South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Vineyards and the Global Economy, 300

[7] World Population Review, “Wine Producing Countries 2020,”, 2022,

[8] Wines of South Africa, “Wines of South Africa – Wine of Origin Scheme,”, 2022,

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