Africa Vine Day?
Should today be a wine-toasted holiday?
In the grand scheme of things, today, April 6, is the day 359 years ago that the first grape vines probably arrived in (southern) Africa. Is it a day to consider the role of wine in the imposing arch of colonialism?
Dutch commander Jan van Riebeeck docked in Table Bay at Africa's tip on April 5, 1652, with his three famous VOC ships. But, as all (white) school kids of the previous era recall, the captain and his mates only stepped ashore the following day to start their arduous task of establishing a 'refreshment station'.
Included among the 'refreshments' was to be wine. It was important, because as C. Louis Leipoldt wrote in his 300 Years of Cape Wine, "All sailors knew and appreciated the value of wine on a long voyage. The Company (VOC) ordered that no ship should embark on the journey to the East without carrying an amount of wine sufficient to give the crew at least a weekly ration."
While it is likely that those first ships did have in its cargo vine cuttings - Van Riebeeck was a keen gardener - Leipoldt wasn't so sure. If they did, Leipoldt wrote, the cuttings might have perished. (He did bring grape seeds, but that is another, lovely, curious story.)
As we know from his records, Van Riebeeck requested more cuttings. These arrived in 1654 and the first wines were made in February, 1659.
Van Riebeeck's landing at the Cape is, of course, no longer - and for good reasons - the cheerful public holiday (especially for kids) that it used to be in the old apartheid days. But it may be worth a toast over dinner tonight: the day the vines arrived in (southern) Africa.