With the beautiful Boland Mountains beckoning as we drove to our rendezvous at Diemersfontein Wine & Country Estate just outside Wellington, the scene was set for a three day experience which showed why the Cape still has pole position in the South African tourist stakes. After a briefing from our tour guides Katrin and Ron, who were to accompany us for most of our time and proved to be a fund of local knowledge, as well as a source of stories both real and tall, our party of 10 eagerly assembled for our first tasting.
Owned by David and Susan Sonnenberg of Woolworths fame, Diemersfontein is celebrating its 10th year of winemaking, and is part of the Biodiversity Wine Initiative, which aims to minimise further loss of the areas’ indigenous renosterveld, as well as promote more sustainable farming methods and wine production. Commendably, this third generation farm has also involved the community in its activities and its BEE partner Thokani, has renovated several cottages which are used as part of the guest accommodation for conferences and weddings. Susan and her two amiable dogs joined us for part of the tasting – the Estate’s Pinotage has proved to be a consistent winner – after which we adjourned to the farm’s Seasons Restaurant and enjoyed an excellent meal.
After a comfortable night in a converted farmhouse building, we were up early for the first leg of the walk, towed by a tractor initially to lessen the impact of a fairly steep ascent through the vineyards to some forest. Here the path levelled out and we ambled through buchu fields, fynbos and olive groves – olive trees never need to be fenced off from theft as it is the only crop where everything happens after it is harvested.
Arriving at Cascade Country Manor – a restored home that was once the retreat of The Duke of Bedford -- in time for lunch, we had our first olive oil tasting and an instructive talk from owner Volker Goetze, who left us in no doubt about the inferiority of ersatz olive oil (“the French and Spanish keep the best for themselves and export the rubbish”) The solution: look for the SA Olive Industry Association label (thier logo) on the bottle for the real thing.
An hour’s walking then brought us to Druk-My-Niet Estate, an old farm which has been replanted in a biodiversity-friendly manner and now boasts a boutique winery. The passion of winemaker Abraham de Klerk was clearly evident as he took us through our tasting, which included the Estate’s Flagship Blends, named Mapoggo after a horse that died in the Boer War and is buried on the farm.
Just across the road from Druk-My-Niet lies Augusta Kleinbosch Guest Farm where we were to spend the night. Steeped in Afrikaans history – the first Afrikaans newspaper Die Patriot was printed on the Farm – it is also the site of the first Afrikaans school as well as the birthplace of Stephanus du Toit, who was a leading light in the Genootskap vir regte Afrikaners. One leaves the Farm with a much better understanding of what it took to achieve the recognition of Afrikaans as a separate language, and Wellington’s part in that process.
After a pleasant walk along a contour path the following morning, we come to Bloublommetjies Kloof, where Wendy Lilje runs an entirely biodynamic self-sufficient farm, and enlightens us as to the virtues of her environmentally-friendly products. Opting out of conventionality to fulfil her dream, there is a visible air of tranquillity about the farm, and even the cows have a wistful, far-away look in their eyes.
Another short walk and we arrive at the small Alkmaar Boutique Winery where Bouwer and Janet Nel lovingly converted a historic outbuilding into a cellar in 2008 and have since set about creating fine wines under The Old School Master label, in tribute to the school that was established on the farm in 1862 by educational icon Meester Stucki. Again, Janet’s enthusiasm for the task in hand is evident as she takes us through our tasting.
And so on to lunch at Hildebrand Estate, where we enjoyed a wine and olive oil tasting hosted by Reni Hildenbrand, a feisty lady who also takes in a vast variety of stray animals, some of whom have given their names to her wines, such as the donkey Lady Jemaima and bouvier twins Bonnie and Clair. We were unable to resist her Semillon Late Harvest aptly titled – though yet to be put to the test – Sleepless Nights.
It was walking all the way to Monte Video Guest House on the outskirts of Wellington where we regrouped in preparation for three tastings on the final day. Ferried up part of Bains Kloof Pass the next morning, it was downhill all the way to Doolhof, a beautiful estate nestled in a valley complete with a labyrinth. Also part of the Biodiversity Wine Initiative, two blocks of land have been identified for clearing and monitoring of alien plant invasion with a view to preserving the indigenous fynbos.
None the worse for this mid-morning tasting, our walk then took us to the historic Welvanpas, still in the hands of one of the direct descendants of Piet Retief, Dan Retief. Over a simple but tasty lunch centred around snoek pate and various wines, Dan told us the story of the farm, at times reading from a weighty tome written by his great-grandmother. A visit to the main house was like a giant step back in time, with a magnificent grandfather clock dominating the voorkamer.
Our final leg brought us to the Bosman Family Vineyards at Lilienfontein, an eight generation farm in a picture-postcard setting. With Jannie Bosman Snr. the Western Cape Farmer of the Year and staffer Rita Andreas the Specialist Farmworker of the Year in 2010, it comes as no surprise to learn that the family is also devoted to conservation and sustainability efforts, serving on the Plant Improvement Board of South Africa and establishing an indigenous Spekboom Plantation.
It is with great reluctance that we eventually leave these pristine surroundings and board our shuttle back to Diemersfontein, where our cars and purchases acquired along the way await us. As we drive slowly back towards Cape Town, with the mountains receding into the distance, we are left with the overwhelming impression that The Wellington Wine Walk is indeed an experience to be savoured, and an opportunity to learn more about the wonderful diversity of our culture from people who are proud to be ‘making a difference’ to South Africa.