It’s a milestone year for the Swartland. In March 1986 – 35 years ago – the region’s wine route, now officially named the Swartland Wine & Olive Route, came into being.
As with reflection all such events, the rarely easy journey of how things came to be is worth remembering, particularly when it comes to something as unique and nuanced as a glass of wine. It encompasses pioneers and risk-takers, mavericks, believers and, to be sure, a fair number of rogues too.
In the context of wine routes however, this was the key that unlocked the region for millions of visitors who continue to explore the Swartland countryside. Nationally, wine tourism annually contributes over R7-billion to GDP. A 2019 study shows that by turnover, Swartland is the 6th biggest contributor.
This is a long way from where things began.
Way back when it all started
The first time that the name Swartland was recorded, was a diary dated August 1701. It was around this time that farms were first granted in the region. Most were engaged in livestock and grain production, but as demand for wine increased, so did vineyards.
Wine increasingly grew to be a profitable enterprise. But despite most producers having made their own wine, some for over a century, a movement began in the 1940s where farms formalised collaborations and launched co-operatives. This meant they could share costs to stay competitive.
The wine & olive route’s history begins in the 1980s. Wine tourism was taking hold after the concept was first introduced in the country by the founding of the Stellenbosch Wine Route in 1971. The KWV – then still a regulatory co-operative – supported the initiative and made funding available for its development.
The organisation established to administer these funds among Swartland producers was its eponymous Wine Trust, founded on March 6, 1986.
The first meeting took place at the Swartland Wine Cellar, which became a founding member together with Porterville Wine Cellar, Mamreweg Wine Cellar (Darling Cellars), Riebeek Wine Farmers and private producers Hanekom Brothers (Winkelshoek) and Allesverloren.
The local director of the KWV, JH Smit, was named its chairman because KWV wanted to maintain oversight on its expenditure and an eye on operations. With the allocation of R27 000 in its account, the trust appointed its management team at the first meeting on April 21 of that year. Membership fee was set at R5pp/year.
Birthdays and Milestones
The creation of a formal wine route however only came three years later: it’s official birthdate – July 31, 1989. A grand celebration was held with various VIPs in attendance and as was wont in those years, so too the year’s Miss South Africa, Michelle Bruce.
The next milestones were the appointment of a full-time promotions manager in 1992 and a public relations officer, two years later. On the latter occasion, two other significant decisions were made: to divest from the Stellenbosch Young Wine Show where the region’s latest wines were exhibited, in favour of a local event that eventually came in 2003; and, for the Swartland Wine Trust to be renamed Swartland Wine Route.
The name change came into effect on April 18, 1994. But seismic changes were also afoot for the industry and the country. The change of the political dispensation led to the opening of global markets to local producers, many of whom saw opportunity in building their own brands.
It launched previously unseen levels of innovation as produces sought to re-define themselves. The region’s producers found themselves thrust in the limelight thanks to amongst others the Swartland Revolution movement, which highlighted the region’s unique style; and, more recently, increased recognition for its old vines.
At the turn of the millennium, a dedicated office was opened in Malmesbury and a year later, the route launched its website. It was during this time that the region also hosted the first olive festival.
Partners who have you covered, olives & independents
For the route, funding had become an issue. KWV ended its funding contribution in the process of transforming to an independent company. This meant the wine route would need new backers and in 2005, it found that partnership, with Santam.
It also expanded its membership to include the burgeoning olive industry. The idea was first floated in 2009 as a way of better representing the region’s lifestyle focus and diversity. Olives had thrived in the region ever since the first commercial trees were planted in 1989.
The motion being accepted, the newly named Swartland Wine & Olive Route came into being on November 19 of that year.
A new era for the region’s wineries was set in motion in 2011 with the formal establishment of the Swartland Independent Producers. The group of wine growers saw the need for greater technical focus on the distinction of wines emerging from the Swartland. It was to be a significant step that helped propel the region’s produce on the national and international stage.
These days, most of its members are listed with the wine & olive route too. This partnership in promoting the region was heralded in 2019 when the wine route adopted its new logo. It features a basket press – an implement traditional to small, hands-on wine production.
This ancient tool came to signify the latest milestone in the contemporary evolution of one of the Cape’s most popular destinations.