The area in which the early settlers found themselves, was quite untouched by human hand. Its early development was relatively slow as all the bush and natural vegetation had to be cleared manually, to make way for the planting of vineyards, and orchards which entailed hard manual labour. Up to the beginning of the 19th century mixed farming i.e. stock, grain and vineyards, was practised. (The Cape halfway-station was established to provide fresh provisions for the sailors of passing Dutch East India Company ships. Wine was also provided to eke out the supply of fresh water during the long sea voyages. The first farms granted to the farmers were free on condition that a tithe of all their grain and wine crop went to the Company in taxes).
During the 18th and early 19th century practically every farm in Franschhoek with its plentiful water supply had a watermill used for grinding domestic corn. Those of Burgundy, La Bri and La Dauphiné, are now defunct, but that on La Cotte was restored in 1989 with the aid of the Franschhoek Trust and Franschhoek Wine Co-operative. The water-mill on La Motte is said to date from 1721.
Most of the Huguenots were acquainted with viticulture, giving a great advantage to this type of farming. The Cape soon became well-known for its dry as well as sweet wines, brandy, vinegar and raisins. The phylloxera infestation of vineyards occurred in 1886, caused by Phylloxera vastatix and decimating the vines by its parasitic action on the roots. To save themselves from bankruptcy the farmers planted more orchards. Only after resistant rootstock was imported from America, did the wine industry pick up again. Because of the many vineyards in Franschhoek and the limited outlets, almost every farmer had his own cellar to make wine or distil brandy.
Turkish tobacco was first cultivated on the farm Champagne in 1905, later becoming a large-scale industry. The seed was brought to Franschhoek by a Mr Popart of the firm Popart in London, Greengrocers, who while calling on international clients, hid tobacco seed in his socks in Turkey and smuggled it out of that country. He gave it to Mr Danie Roux of Champagne who planted it and together with Gideon Josua (Jop) Roux started the tobacco-industry in Franschhoek. It was discontinued in 1915 when it was found to be more economically viable in the Stellenbosch district.
Deciduous fruit farming
In the beginning fruit farming was subordinate to wine farming. The kind of fruits planted then included the Sweet Saffron Pear, "Cape Damsel" and "Damask" plums, peaches and also apples of the Haumann, Hugo, May and Wemmershoek varieties. Syrup was cooked from the Sweet Saffron Pears while the other fruit went by ox-wagon to the Cape market. After the rail-link was established between Paarl and Franschhoek in 1904 transport facilities were greatly improved. Combined with the simultaneous development of export markets it resulted in the further extension of the wine and fruit industry in the valley.
Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are the main plum producing areas of South Africa, while pears, peaches, nectarines, apples and table grapes are also produced here in great quantities. The Franschhoek Fruit Packers' Co-operative was established on 21st May, 1981 in order to promote uniform packing procedures.
Today the deciduous fruit industry together with viticulture, forms the backbone of the economy of the Western Cape Province and provides thousands with employment.