Tracing Chenin Blanc back to its noble roots

Chenin Blanc has a long history. It's thought to have been established in the Anjou region of France as long ago as the ninth century and was probably known then as Chenere. The variety was renamed Chenin Blanc, after Mont Chenin, in the 15th century soon after being exported to the Touraine region in the Loire Valley.

Chenin Blanc also has a long and interesting history in South Africa and is believed to be amongst the first vine cuttings that arrived here in 1655 during the time of Governor Jan van Riebeeck. Early documents refer to three varieties: Groendruif (Semillon), Fransdruif and Steen. It seems that the origin of the names Fransdruif and Steen are intertwined. There is a theory that the name 'Steen' developed when the Dutch who settled in the Cape decoded 'Listan' to 'La Stan', then 'De Steen' and finally, 'Steen'.

Early opinion had it that Steen was of Germanic origin, supported by the evidence of a handwritten note, by Governor Simon van der Stel, on wine quality, that mentioned that wine made from Steen was comparable to quality German Stein wines. This saw the introduction of the Germanic spelling 'Stein'. After an extensive, but unsuccessful, Germanic and eastward search for the origin of Steen, the variety Franche (from which Fransdruif might originally have taken its name) provided the answer. This variety was also apparently known by the French, as Chenin Blanc - and approximately thirty other names. In 1963, the then Head of Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch, Professor C.J Orffer, matched Steen and Chenin Blanc leaves and finally pronounced Steen, Chenin Blanc.

Steen first came to prominence in the first half of the twentieth century as a base for South African brandy. In the 1960s, Lieberstein, a semi-sweet blend of Steen and Clairette Blanche, enjoyed phenomenal success.

It was, for a while, the world's bestselling single brand of wine. At a different level, but just as spectacular, Nederburg Edelkeur, a Chenin Blanc Noble Late Harvest, provided ample evidence of the quality that Chenin Blanc can deliver.

Chenin Blanc Association of South Africa