Cheers! To Scurvy?
South Africa's wine trade exists today almost exclusively thanks to the prevalence of a gnarly 17th-century disease that plagued the developing world in those days. No...really!!
The Cape Coast on the southernmost tip of Southern Africa was discovered by the Dutch in 1488. To be fair it probably existed before it was “discovered” by Europeans, but that is a debate for a different blog.
The Dutch settled in the Cape in 1652 establishing it as a refreshment station for its explorers on route to the distant Asia-Pacific lands. At the time ships with full crews would leave the Dutch Coast, with a majority not reaching the final destination as they fell victim to the deadly symptoms of scurvy. The African Cape Coast, with its abundant source of Vitamin C, made it the perfect refueling stop for these sailors to help fight off this deadly disease.
Five years after settlement in 1657, Cape Coast settlers requested vines from Europe. These uprooted and transported vines were replanted in what is now South Africa, and those vines produced the first wine ever pressed in the Cape in 1659. Diary entries from the first pressing made by Jan Van Riebeeck note that:
"God be praised, wine was pressed for the first time from Cape grapes, mostly muscadel and other whites, very fragrant and tasty."
So as you sit down today and enjoy a glass of wine from these 350-year-old winelands, remember to raise that glass and cheers scurvy...without which these winelands would never exist!