South African culture is deeply rooted in tradition and is powerfully bonded to the land. With sweeping landscapes, magnificent wildlife, and bustling cities, today South Africa is a crossroads where unique indigenous cultures and modern lifestyles meet. Sebeka® wines are a prime example of how “Old World” traditions blend with “New World” styles to create a distinct taste experience for the adventurous wine aficionado. With a 350-year winemaking history, South Africa is quickly emerging as one of the premier winegrowing regions worldwide. We invite you to pursue the real story, exploring the preconceptions and misconceptions that often swirl around a glass of South African wine.
We invite you to experience South Africa, and its vibrant and turbulent viticultural history.
The wine industry in South Africa, like its citizenry, has suffered economic, political, and developmental turmoil over the past 100 years. These political forces have been extremely influential in the development of vineyards as well as in the creation and exportation of wine. In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck, commissioned by the Dutch East India Company, established a food supply station for their fleet of merchant ships at the Cape of Good Hope in Africa. This powerful trade company was aware that 40% of a ship’s crew could possibly suffer from scurvy during an extended ocean voyage; therefore, they mandated a daily supply of wine for its sailors to prevent this incapacitating disease. Wine in South Africa flourished around the time of the European settlement; the first European vine went into the ground in 1655 at the southern tip of Africa, which led to the production of the first wine in 1659.
Simon Van der Stel established the wine estate of Groot Constantia, located in the Western Cape of South Africa, and created a sweet muscat that became one of the most sought after and expensive dessert wines of the 18th century, rivaling Hungary’s Tokaji in popularity and price. Despite the wine estate falling into the shadows for many decades, its creation represented not only South Africa’s history of premium winemaking, but also showed the potential of South Africa’s modern-day wine culture. Currently, the wine estates of Constantia are being reconstructed to reenter the South African wine community. To revitalize tradition, Klein Constantia Winery is once again producing Vin de Constance, which remains one of the most highly-regarded wines of South Africa today.
Political mayhem during the late 1700s and early 1800s influenced South Africa’s destiny in the winemaking industry. During the aggressive years with France, Britain imposed severe trade barriers upon French wine and turned to the Cape for its source of wine, occupying it on two separate occasions. South African winegrowers experienced economic prosperity during this time, but had a high price to pay- they had to sacrifice their sovereignty.
Entering the 20th century, politics continued to play a significant role in South Africa’s wine production. The instatement of the oppressive political system of Apartheid, which enforced racial segregation, severed relationships with other countries as most of the developed world boycotted all forms of trade with South Africa during the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s. This nearly bankrupted its wine industry and set back its vineyard and winery development back more than half a century.
In the early 1900s, grape growers coalesced to negotiate better prices for their crops and to cooperatively purchase as well as utilize expensive winery equipment. In 1909, however, over-production caused grape prices to plummet and surplus wine was disposed of into rivers. This economic slump led to the establishment of the Kooperatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereniging (KWV). During this time, the KWV became a price cartel and its powers expanded exponentially. It wasn’t until 1992 that the KWV returned some of its powers back to the individual grape growers, allowing farmers to plant where they reckoned fit. In 1997, after the KWV officially converted from a cooperative to a company, the South African Wine Industry Trust was established - a foundation that invests in wine marketing, viticultural research, and wine education for the South African Wine Industry.
Although South Africa resurfaced onto the world trade scene at the culmination of the Apartheid and UN embargo on trade in 1994, the wine industry is still under refurbishment. Vineyards that suffered viral diseases have been replanted. Smaller wineries have begun to estate bottle and upgrade their cellars with modern cooperage and equipment. Stellenbosch, the world’s chief wine university, is once again fully funded to lead viticultural and enological research.
Today, South Africa produces 3.4% of the world’s wine and ranks seventh in the world in wine production. About 5,000 farmers cultivate 250,000 acres of land and most of the wine produced is vinified by estates and cooperatives. Although the percentage is rapidly declining, cooperatives still handle approximately 85% of South Africa’s total wine harvest. In the U.S. market, imported table wine from South Africa continues to grow. Currently, South Africa accounts for 1.3% of the table wine imports into America. Industry experts predict a wave of interest in South African wines as their availability to American consumers increases and as they continue to consistently gain radiant reviews from the American wine community.
Sebeka Wines, produced in the Swartland Winery, honor this long winemaking tradition of South Africa with unique wines that began to pepper the American market in 2007. Although the past was marked by hardship, creating an erratic and rickety wine industry within the country, the future is exciting taste buds across America. Sebeka is privileged to be part of this fast-growing industry as it enhances the South African wine collection with its alluring flavors.