Stellenbosch is the second oldest wine region in South Africa and is set in the heart of the Cape wine region - situated about 50 kilometers east of Cape Town, along the banks of the Eerste River. The recorded history of Stellenbosch dates back to 1679 when this name was given to a small island on the Eerste River by 'Simon van der Stel' - the governor at the time of the Cape.
The Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek valleys form the Cape Winelands, the larger of the two main wine growing regions in South Africa. The South African wine industry produces about 10 million hl of wine annually. Stellenbosch is the primary location for viticulture and viticulture research. The region has a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and cool wet winters. Stellenbosch lies at the foot of the 'Cape Fold' mountain range, which provides favourable soils for viticulture - ranging from light, sandy soils to decomposed granite, creating several different sub-regions.
The granite-based soils in the east are especially suited to the production of fine red wines, whereas the sandstone soils in the west are best for whites. Traditionally Stellenbosch is famous for its white wines which are of the highest quality. About 40% of the vines grown in the Stellenbosch area are white wine grapes with nearly half being Sauvignon Blanc vines and the balance made up of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Sémillon.
However Stellenbosch winemakers have also begun concentrating on producing quality red wines and have made significant progress, with Cabernet Sauvignon the most popular red varietal planted with Shiraz and Merlot equally in second place.
In the 1800's, Cape wines became popular during the war between France and the UK, but the market collapsed soon after the war ended due to France re-establishing its wine industry in the 1900's. Through the turn of the 19th century into the early 20th century, German and Italian immigrants settled in the Cape, adding their own expertise and traditions of winemaking to the growing wine industry in South Africa. Stellenbosch is also the oldest wine tourist route in South Africa established in 1971 and is the pulsating heart of the country’s wine industry, with over 200 family wine estates to visit and sample.