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Stellenbosch is located within the Coastal Region in South Africa’s Western Cape province. It is perhaps the most prestigious of the country’s wine regions.
The area is named for the town that was settled in the mid 1670s with the establishment of the Dutch East India Company. The French Huguenots soon came to the region and planted vineyards. By the time the British controlled South Africa in the 1800s, this fledgling wine industry was beginning to boom. The British were pleased to have a source of good wine at a time their on-again-off-again relationship with France was on a downswing. But Britain and France kissed and made up again, and then Phylloxera struck by the end of the century. This double-whammy put a cork in the works for a long while.
The University of Stellenbosch and its wine education program was established in 1918. In 1925, Dr. William Charles Winshaw established the Stellenbosch Farmer’s Winery (SFW) association to promote the growth of the region’s wines (and also spirits), which eventually became Distell in 2000. Many successful wines, including Lieberstein brandy made from local Chenin Blanc and Clairette Blanche, were launched due to SFW efforts.
By the 1970s, Stellenbosch University set up the Wine of Origin (WO) appellation designations within South Africa. And this is also the decade that the official Stellenbosch Wine Route, the country’s first, was established. However, this is also a period when Apartheid practices were coming to light and many countries were hesitant to do business with South Africa. By the 1980s, full trade embargoes were enacted with countries including the US. This kept the wine industry in a damaging state of isolation, with no international investment and little advance in technology and quality practices. By the time Apartheid ended and trade relations opened up again, much of the wine coming from Stellenbosch and South Africa as a whole, was considered sub par.
But the 1990s saw a massive shift as international investors saw their big opportunities and much more focus on quality was brought to the wine industry. Stellenbosch in particular was popular with foreign wine-makers who were attracted to the fertile terroir and warm, dry growing season.
Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are the grapes that first attracted fans. Other popular white varietals cultivated there are Chardonnay and Semillon. Cabernet Sauvignon is the top red grape, along with Shiraz (Syrah), Merlot and the national grape Pinotage.
The WO areas within Stellenbosch are:
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