Simon van der Stel, a Scotsman and winemaker Podlashuk – the history of Shiraz in South Africa

In a recent blog, The story of Shiraz, Syrah and Shirazi, we addressed the origin of Shiraz and how despite romantic rumours about it being from Ancient Persia in the Middle East, it actually originates from France. But how did Shiraz make its way to the Southern tip of Africa to become the second most planted red variety in South Africa?

Cellarmaster Edmund Terblanche is also the chairman of Shiraz South Africa and he explained more:

“We are not sure about how and when the first Shiraz entered South Africa, but there are a few theories. One is that Governor, Simon van der Stel brought some to the Cape from Europe by the end of the 1600’s. Another theory is that a Scotsman by the name of James Busby who is credited for taking Shiraz to Australia, might have left some Shiraz cuttings in Cape Town in 1840,en route from Europe. What we do know, however, is that the first Shiraz to be planted in South African soil, was in the late 1890’s on the farm Groot Constantia.”

According to the Shiraz SA website, 15 Shiraz wines (of which 12 were sweet!) were entered into the Cape Agricultural Wine Competition in 1935. It is however winemaker Bernard Podlashuk, “The Father of Shiraz in South Africa”, who was responsible for bottling the first single cultivar Shiraz in 1957 under the Bellingham label. In 1963, Groot Constantia bottled their first Shiraz and by 1965, Klawer Co-op. had a Shiraz in the bottle.

By the late 1970’s a mere 20 Shiraz wines were recorded but this changed dramatically in the early 1990’s when Shiraz’s international popularity spilled over to South Africa. Shiraz plantings grew from approximately 900 hectares in 1992 to 10 000 hectares in 2009!

Not only is Shiraz today the second biggest planted red variety in South Africa after Cabernet Sauvignon, but South Africa also has the fourth biggest plantings of Shiraz in the world.

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