THE HISTORY OF BACKSBERG

The Backs of the (Simons)berg - Paarl, RSA

The Back family business was founded by Charles Louis Back – who came to South Africa as a penniless, illiterate, Jewish refugee from Lithuania – in 1902. Sydney Back, his son, took over in 1942 and Michael Back, the grandson, joined the fold in 1976. Simon Back, now the fourth generation, is the current CEO of Backsberg and it is the hope that his son, Eli Back, will continue the legacy in future.

Over the years the estate has gone through many iterations since its purchase by CL Back in 1916. In its 104 years, it has been a mixed farming operation – from fruit to grapes and even livestock – but today the focus is on the wine business. Celebrating four generations of family ownership, and several years of quality winemaking, Backsberg continues to thrive by honouring the past whilst simultaneously forging ahead with forward-thinking holistic practices.

Michael Back, third generation owner (left) and his son Simon Back (right), fourth generation owner and CEO

Michael Back, third generation owner (top) and his son Simon Back (bottom), fourth generation owner and CEO

OUR HISTORICAL TIMELINE

Interested in reading more about the estate and its fascinating past? Navigate through our historical timeline by using the arrows below.

IN THE BEGINNING

1841

Jan Christoffel Bosman, owner of parent farm Babylonstoren, sells off the parcel of land known as Klein Babylonstoren to George Louis Steytler for £775.

1841

On the same day, Steytler sells the farm to Gerhard Jacobus Brink for £850 (production of wine at that time was 50 leaguers – about 28 800 litres).

1849

Brink goes insolvent and sells to Muller for £925.

1853

Muller struggles to make a go of the farm and sells the land to Hendrik Louw. Hendrik Louw was born on the next-door farm, Simonsvlei, which was owned by his father.

1881

Hendrik passes on, leaving the farm to his wife, Magdalena.

1889

Magdalena subsequently dies and the farm is purchased from her estate by her son Hendrik II for £1612.

1897

Hendrik II is also unable to make a success of things and leaves for South West Africa. He sells the property to Nicolas Bouermeester.

1909

Bouermeester goes into voluntary liquidation and the farm is purchased from an insolvent estate by Andrew Greenhalgh, who is a retired cotton bleacher from Lancashire.

1912

Greenhalgh senior dies and leaves the farm to his two sons, Leonard and Bertram.

THE 1ST GENERATION - CHARLES LOUIS BACK (C.L. BACK)

1916

Klein Babylonstoren is purchased by Charles Louis Back for £6500.

1921

Charles’ son, Sydney Back, is born at Klein Babylonstoren on 6 February 1921.

1927

Sydney attends school in Simondium, making the trip by horse and cart. At that time, there were six classes held simultaneously in one classroom.

1929

Sydney attends high school at Paarl Gimnasium.

THE 1ST & 2ND GENERATION - CHARLES LOUIS AND SYDNEY BACK

1936

Sydney joins his father in the family business.

1939

Sydney continues to make wine under his father’s supervision while Dr Niehaus of KWV supervises the making of sherry. The farm produces largely sweet white and red wines for KWV & Merchants. Varieties such as Cinsaut, Semillon, Pedro, Hanepoot and Clairette Blanche were included.

1944

Sydney plants the first vineyard on contoured land in South Africa.

1945

Sydney is awarded the Jan Smuts Trophy for overall performance at the SA Young Winemaker’s Show.

1951

Sydney purchases the farm from his father for a nominal amount. He also obtains a Wholesale Liquor License and registers the name Back’s Wine. He is now able to sell wine directly to the retail trade.

1952

Sydney purchases first-day old chicks, starting a new venture at the farm.

1954

Sydney plants 10 000 canning peach trees, which produce successfully for 15 years. In the same year, Charles Louis Back passes away.

2ND GENERATION - SYDNEY BACK

1959

SA’s first inexpensive semi-sweet wine called Mardi Gras is bottled. This is a blend of Semillon, Clairette Blanche and Chenin Blanc.

1960

The largest quantity of wine is sold - a semi-sweet white Mardi Gras and an off-dry red Florentina.

1961

Sydney designs and manufactures the first-ever ½ gallon plastic jar in South Africa.

1965

Sydney designs a new method for offloading grapes into the crusher.

1965

Sydney starts a large-scale Cabernet Sauvignon planting scheme. In the same year, he kicks off the Simonsberg poultry farm with the purpose of producing fertile eggs for sale to hatcheries.

1966

Sydney enters into discussions on the formation of the Estate Wine Producers Association.

1968

The first Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are harvested.

1969

This was a big year. The wholesale license for Back’s Wine is sold while the farm becomes an Estate Wine producer as legislation develops. In addition, there is the introduction of a new vineyard planting style, one with narrower rows. Sydney makes his first trip to California and is greatly influenced by cellar door sales. He buys the farm Greendale and plants 60 000 Pinotage vines. He builds a two-classroom school on the farm Simonsvlei for labourers’ children.

1970

The Backsberg cellar is opened to the public for the first time.

1971

The first Cabernet Sauvignon was sold from the estate. Sydney is actively involved in drafting Estate wine legislation.

1972

Sydney flies over 300 people from Johannesburg by SAA Jumbo Jet as a public relations exercise. Guests are entertained with cellar tours and picnic lunches. In the same year, Sydney becomes involved in establishing the Paarl wine route.

1973

Backsberg Wine Estate made its first estate wine for sale to the public. Rights obtained to pump water from the Berg River to Klein Babylonstoren and Klein Simonsvlei were obtained.

1974

40 ha of peaches were replaced with vines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Bukettraube, Chenin Blanc and Shiraz) leading to a 180 ha vineyard.

1975

Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc vines were planted.

2ND AND 3RD GENERATION - SYDNEY BACK AND MICHAEL BACK

1976

3rd Generation Michael Back - a fresh oenology and viticulture graduate from Stellenbosch University - joins the family business. In addition, the team “imported” 52 Chardonnay buds from Europe which resulted in 60 000 vines.

1978

Backsberg awarded Champion white table wine and Sydney is awarded Winemaker of the year at the Boberg Wine Show Awards.

1979

The farm Uitsig was purchased and converted to a stud piggery.

1980

The first Chardonnay wine was produced.

The first purchase of 225 litre Nevers Oak barrels for Chardonnay maturation takes place.

1981

Sydney is awarded Champion Estate Winemaker.

1982
The first Chardonnay wine is released.

1984

Sydney is awarded the title of Paarl Champion Winemaker.

1985

The first méthode champenoise sparkling wine (or rather Méthode Cap Classique) is bottled at Backsberg.

1987

Sydney is elected as chairman of Estate Wine Producers’ Association.

1988

Sydney becomes a consultant and supplier of winemaking equipment to Baron Winery, a small family-owned winery in Zichron Yaakov, Israel.

1990

Wine exports to the UK and EU countries commence.

1991

Started Estate Brandy Production. Installed first computerised Cognac alembic potstill in SA.

1992

Began exporting wines to the USA and Canada.

1993

Two containers = 2,000 cases of wine shipped to Russia (1st such consignment from a South African farm). This was 91 years after CL Back emigrated.

1994

First bottling of Sydney Back Brandy. Sydney Back is designated as“Wine personality of the year” by John Platter.

1995

First Release of Sydney Back Brandy. This release is awarded the Domecq Trophy for the best brandy in the world at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London. Sydney Back is awarded, once again, “Wine personality of the year” and the family purchases the Sonop Farm. 60 000 Chardonnay, 6 000 Pinotage and 16 000 Merlot vines were planted on this property.

1996

Sydney Back is honoured by KWV for achievements and contributions within the SA wine industry. He sadly passes away shortly thereafter.

3RD GENERATION - MICHAEL BACK

2002

Winemaker Alicia Rechner joins the fold.

2006

Mail and Guardian award Backsberg with “Greening the Future Award” for energy efficiency and carbon control.

3RD AND 4TH GENERATION - MICHAEL BACK AND SIMON BACK

2008

Simon Back, son of Michael Back, joins the business after finishing his Business Science Economics degree at the University of Cape Town. He comes armed with fresh ideas and a new outlook to the world of wine in the modern era.

Mail and Guardian award Backsberg with “Greening the Future Award” for energy efficiency and carbon control.

2010

Backsberg introduces the Tread Lightly Range - at the time these wines are bottled in PET and were 100% recyclable. A completely new take on wine packaging.

2011

Backsberg is awarded the “Climate Change Leadership Award”.

2018

Michael Back receives the Global Green Lifetime Achievement Award by Drinks Business in London while Backsberg receives the “Amorin Sustainability Award” (producers leading the way in sustainability and environmental performance).

2018

Backsberg undergoes a brand refresh paying homage to the past and looking towards the future with a fresh and modern perspective. The Tread Lightly brand is re-envisioned in lightweight glass and Tree Free™ paper labelling.

3RD, 4TH AND 5TH GENERATION - MICHAEL, SIMON AND ELI BACK

2019

On the 6th of January 2019, the fifth generation was born and it is the hope that little Eli Back will one day continue in his predecessors’ carbon neutral footprints.


The dynamic trio - yet to come.