The History of South African Wine

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When the Cape’s first winegrower, Jan van Riebeeck, departed for VOC headquarters in Batavia in April 1662, his successor as commander was Zacharias Wagenaar of Dresden, Saxony (Germany).

The son of a judge and painter, Wagenaar was a clerk, merchant, member of the Court of Justice and illustrator, and his career with the Dutch East India Company (VOC) would span 35 years and four continents.

Did he share his predecessor’s enthusiasm for wine?

Certainly, he didn’t find official Company vine plantings much to get excited about. According to the instructions Van Riebeeck had left for him, there were precisely 832 vines planted in the Company’s Garden and at the fort, of which only 82 had produced fruit, while the remaining 750 comprised young rooted vines.

However, Van Riebeeck’s ‘own’ vines at Bosheuvel were ‘thriving very beautifully’ (even if there weren’t quite 10-12,000 planted, as he claimed) and some of the vrijburghers farming along the Liesbeeck River (from present-day Mowbray to Bishopscourt) had also started establishing vineyards (we’ll meet some of them next time, most notably the man who would purchase Bosheuvel in November 1665).