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Why South Africa’s Key Wine Industry Role Players Are So Important

364 years ago the first wine was made in South Africa from grapes planted in Cape Town – an occasion noted by Jan van Riebeeck, Governor of the Cape, in his diary on 2 February 1659 when he wrote, “Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes.”

To mark this momentous event, every year the SA industry comes together to celebrate the annual Wine Harvest Commemorative Event. This prestigious event also pays tribute to the key role players and industry figureheads who have made exceptional contributions to the ongoing success of South African wine.

Over the years, many greats have been recognised, including Nelson Mandela. And this year Rydal Jeftha, Wendy Jonker, Dr Erna Blancquaert and Ken Forrester were added to the list of outstanding leaders in the categories of Growing Inclusivity, Wine Advancement, Viti- and Viniculture, and Visionary Leadership (with the 1659 Award for Visionary Leadership). Rydal Jeftha, the winner in the Growing Inclusivity category, has a passion for emerging generations of farmers and winemakers and is a mentor and inspirational leader to multitudes of young people – creating a sense of hope and future focus for those who may face barriers to entering the industry. Wendy Jonkers, the winner in the Wine Advancement category, has significantly contributed to opening doors for the South African wine industry internationally. Dr Erna Blancquaert, winner in the Viti- and Viniculture category, was the first black South African to receive a PhD in Viticulture. Her tireless devotion to empowerment shows a strong focus on building and supporting a new generation of black researchers.

Ken Forrester, winner of the Visionary Leadership category and widely known as “Mr Chenin”, has profoundly enhanced the reputation of the South African Chenin Blanc cultivar. Over the years, his inspired work has resulted in sales growth and brought global renown to South Africa’s Chenin Blanc.

“All the problems of the world on one hand – and a glass of Chenin in the other, that’s better!”
– Ken Forrester

Interesting to note is that Chenin Blanc is believed to be amongst the first vine cuttings that arrived in South Africa in 1655, and some of the first grapes to be pressed in 1659 were from these vines. Nowadays Chenin Blanc has perhaps the strongest claim as South Africa’s signature wine and is the country’s most widely planted grape variety. There’s almost twice as much Chenin in South Africa than there is in France where the varietal originated.

Industry Greats Keep SA’s Wine Industry Going – Why This Is Important

These industry greats all play integral roles in the success of South Africa’s wine sector – something which is key for the country as a whole. The wine industry in SA is important for job creation, tourism and essential economic recovery.

This is according to Jean Naudé, CEO of Groot Constantia who explains that the South African wine sector contributes R55 billion to the country’s GDP.

South African wine exports are a critical element in the industry and almost 50% of all wine produced in South Africa is exported. It is the second largest exported agricultural product in South Africa, after citrus. “The South African wine industry exports wine to 130 countries around the world, to the value of R9.9 billion  – which translates to 18 million glasses of wine every day of the year, globally. This is key to supporting ongoing job creation and economic growth,” says Naudé.

The SA wine industry is a significant job creator – important in a country with a 32.7% unemployment rate. For every job created on a wine farm, the value chain creates 10 more. Currently, there are 265 000 people employed in the sector.

Wine tourism is a huge contributor to South Africa’s tourism industry as a whole as domestic and international tourists flock to SA’s wine farms to enjoy wine tastings, food and wine pairings, wine sales, as well as complimentary leisure activities on offer on many South African wine farms – such as cellar and vineyard tours, mountain biking trails, quad biking, horse riding, and hiking experiences – to name only a few.

The Wine Harvest Commemorative Event is also the time when the new South African harvest – currently coming to completion in South Africa – is blessed. This is a special tradition going back hundreds of years, and one that is honoured all over the world.

For more information on the Wine Harvest Commemorative Event, the honourees, and the South African wine industry in general visit For more information on Groot Constantia