• Kim Rabe

Cape Wine History- the 20th Century and beyond

The 20th Century was a difficult time for the Cape wine industry. Recovering from the crippling effects of vine disease, the hardships of wartime and continuing poor exports, the industry was in a poor state. In 1918 the government established the Co-operative Winegrower’s Society of South Africa better known as the KWV to solve the ongoing problem of over- production. The KWV was given power to control all aspects of the wine industry, from the sale and disposal of grapes to production and marketing of wines. They could fix minimum prices paid to farmers for their wines and controlled how much farmers could sell whilst any surplus was expected to be given without compensation for the production of KWV wines and brandy. This was legislated in the 1950's and applied to all wine farmers, whether members of the KWV or not.

In the 1950’s a ‘quota system’ came into being which now also controlled the number of vines a farmer could grow, what varietals, clones, rootstocks and in what wine regions he could grow them. Such stringent control hampered any attempts for creativity and innovation and was incredibly frustrating for farmers wanting to pioneer into new growing areas or to experiment with new varietals.

Furthermore, from 1948 South Africa had been under an Apartheid government, heavy sanctions were placed on the country for its policy of racial segregation. It was extremely difficult for farmers to get new clones of noble varietals or quality oak barrels and the years of isolation meant farmers were out of touch with international markets. The majority of wine exported during these years was bulk wine sold for below average prices with the result that most wine production was aimed at quantity rather than quality.

Positive changes began to take place in the wine industry as South Africa prepared for its first democratic elections in 1994. The KWV quota system had been abandoned and trade sanctions were lifted. Farmers were now able to obtain better quality clones and new varietals were planted. Winemakers were also able to travel and gain exposure to international trends, share knowledge and learn new skills.

Today the KWV is a private company, producing amongst its portfolio some fine wines and brandies. Other large co-operatives have also had to improve their standards and develop products aimed at the premium market whilst the number of private cellars has also grown considerably, many of which are boutique producers with exciting young winemakers.

New producing areas, many of which are much cooler and a resurgence of interest in old vines have all contributed to making South Africa one of the most dynamic wine producing nations of the moment. International wine critics continue to comment on both the quality and value for money coming out of South African vineyards and the increase in foreign investment in our wineries is a sure indication of our greater potential.

The 2018 harvest was severely affected by the ongoing drought and some areas experienced frost damage. Farmers and winemakers have had to adapt to water efficient practices and are now forced to employ long- term sustainable measures, including planting more drought resistant cultivars. Although yields were down overall, the dry warm weather offered protection against disease and resulted in healthy, small berries with great intensity. The indications thus far are that the quality of the harvest will be excellent!

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