What Do you Do with a Drunken Sailor? Give Him More Wine!

Wine is a miracle fluid: it cures the blues, it makes food taste better, it transforms ‘average’ to ‘great’ and it improves our  foreign language skills. But wine isn’t just a remedy for the soul. There are plenty of folks (doctors included) who subscribe to the old adage “a glass a day keeps the doctor away.” In moderation, wine is proven to lower cholesterol, improve brain function and lower the risk of heart disease. Thank you science!

Most of us don’t really think of wine as medicine, we usually drink it because it makes us feel awesome. However, the viticulture industry in South Africa was actually founded to address a major health concern of the 1600’s: scurvy.

Scurvy (pronounced scurrrveeyy) makes us think of pirates, sailors and frail colonists- as it should. These were the folks who were around in 1652 when the Dutch East India Company landed at Cape Town.

The disease is caused by a lack of crucial vitamins and antioxidants that we can only get from fruit and veggies. On long sea journeys, these weren’t available. Once all the nutritious stuff was eaten, sailors would get pale and spotty skin, jaundice, fevers, neuropathy and a lot of the time they’d die.

Take it from this guy, scurvy sucks.

Take it from this guy, scurvy sucks.

This was sort of a big problem since sailing, piracy and colonization were totally trending in the 17th century. So Jan van Riebeeck (Dutch colonial administrator, surgeon and founder of Cape Town) did what we’d all do: he started a vineyard and made a ton of wine.

We're not sure if Jan founded Cape Town or his mustache did.

Historians are still debating whether Jan founded Cape Town, or his mustache did.

See, wine contains a decent amount of Vitamin C and antioxidants (it is made of grapes). It’s also easy to transport and takes a long time to perish. By drinking wine over the course of long sea journeys, sailors could avoid getting scurvy (we bet morale was higher too).

Folks, avoiding scurvy is just one more reason to drink wine. We aren’t fans of it, but we do have it to thank for the wine industry in South Africa.

Three cheers for scurvy!


Leave a Reply