A legacy of family wine generations in South Africa
By Samarie Smith Dipwset - Photos Courtesy of the Estate, posted on 04 October 2022
An article on South African wine pioneers and the dedication to their family heritage is a guaranteed page-turner that will draw you in with colourful characters as you devour each page.
When the Dutch planted the first vines in 1652 as a necessary refreshment station relieving scurvy-ridden sailors on their Spice Route voyage, it was never the intention to make wine. Nor did they foresee the start of a booming industry with the first crush in 1659 that would, three centuries later, account for 10% of the country's total GDP.
Alas, a chequered history followed as the country soldiered through colonialism, phylloxera, Apartheid, and fierce international opposition; yet, these perennial plants (and their custodians) survived and thrived, despite a contentious political quandary. Once Apartheid finally ceased, a new world opened for South African wines in the 90s.
The world was poring over the Cape Dutch architecture, magnificent gables, and lush vineyards. But more so, it was the elixir in the barrels housed behind these whitewashed walls intriguing them most. Stories rapidly unfolded of families dedicated to the craft of winemaking as the industry took shape. Then, armed with renewed confidence, many braved a lifestyle change that included a fierce commitment to the betterment of the environment and the surrounding communities, ensuring their businesses stayed resilient in a modernising world.
The Gilbert & Gaillard International Challenge results included some of the oldest family-owned wine farms from around the Cape, true to a craft gifted by previous generations and nurtured for those to come.
The Simonsberg ward in the Stellenbosch wine district is steeped in history, dating back to 1685 when Governor Simon van der Stel granted the first farms. Muratie's old-world charm includes a small building that the first owner Laurens Campher built for his family in that same year. What followed was a serendipitous tale of a farm that once belonged to one Martin Melck in 1763, changed hands, and found its way back to the Melck family in 1987.
Owner Rijk Melck shares his late father Ronnie’s lifelong dream:
“In the late 1950s, as a young winemaker working for Farmers Winery, they bought grapes from Annemarie Canitz, who owned Muratie and shared its history. Despite many eager buyers, she wanted to see it return to the Melck family, given my father would respect its classism”.
Muratie pays homage to the individuals who lived there 300 years ago, naming some wines after them, like Ansela van de Caab, Campher's wife.
Rijk Melck and his wife Kim From Muratie
The Muratie wine tasting room
Two months before Melck's father passed away, they won the coveted General Smuts Trophy with a Cabernet Sauvignon at the SA Young Wine Show.
“It was a good send off for my father; he saw his dream come true”.
And the Muratie Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 did it again, scoring 91 points with Gilbert & Gaillard, and the Laurens Campher White Blend 2019, 92 points.
Melck left his career as a medical doctor after his father passed away to continue the legacy. “I needed to be here, to guide and protect it”.
Staying in the Simonsberg ward, the Sperling family has a loyal following, initiated by their late father, Michael Hans Sperling, fondly known as ‘Spatz’. He was the nephew of Hans Otto Hoheisen (who bought Delheim in 1938) and journeyed to South Africa onboard the Winchester Castle in 1951 to work for Hoheisen as post-war Germany had little to offer. In 1971, Spatz became one of the founders of the first wine route in South Africa and helped create a wine tourism enterprise second to none.
Today the farm solely belongs to the Sperling family. His widow, Vera, still resides on the farm; so does his eldest son Victor Sperling and eldest daughter Nora Sperling-Thiel with their families, serving as directors of Delheim.
“There has always been a natural development in the right direction. Like when Nongcebo ‘Noni’ Langa came to work here as an intern and worked her way up to become the winemaker with Roelof Lotriet as cellarmaster. Family businesses have the freedom to make these choices”, Victor added. Affirmation in the Delheim Chardonnay 2021 and the Delheim Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 reeling in 92 points.
Victor, Vera and Nora Sperling at their family farm in Stellenbosch, Delheim
Jacques de Villiers, the ancestor of the present-day de Villiers family of Landskroon, arrived in the Cape from Niort, France, in 1689. He first acquired the farm Boschendal before starting the legacy of Landskroon.
Set against the southwestern slopes of the Paarl Mountain is Landskroon Wine Estate, 330 hectares with 160 under vine. Cellarmaster and fifth-generation Paul De Villiers runs the estate with his brother Hugo.
A warm smile stretches across Paul De Villiers's face, etched with fine lines of wisdom. “Exactly 100 years after the farm was established in 1874, the first wine was bottled in 1974”.
Albeit change was inevitable, a solid score for their Shiraz (92 points) reflects the consistent quality.
“Three years ago, we replaced an image of the farm entrance with the family crest, and the new modern look was well received”.
De Villiers joined the farm in the 80s and delights in celebrating their heritage and wine range named after all the Pauls who made wine here.
With three daughters in diverse careers outside of wine, it is still a mystery who will fill his shoes, but they are certainly heading in a steadfast direction.
The 5th and 4th Paul de Villiers from Landskroon
The De Villiers family members working on Landskroon
The cool, undulated Durbanville valleys are synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc, as 92 points for the Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc 2021 suggests. Yet, their Pinotage 2020 (92 points) and Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 (93 points) impressed with great fruit definition - its vineyards framed with Table Mountain as the backdrop.
Granted to free burgher Hendrik Sneewind in 1698, Captain Diemer married his widow, hence the estate's name, with an inventory confirming that wine has been made here for over three centuries.
The Louw family acquired Diemersdal in 1885, with Thys Louw, the 6th generation, holding the reins. Still farming with wheat and canola on these 340 hectares of land (including protected Renosterbosveld), wine production covers 90% of the business, with 180 hectares under vine.
“I am a firm believer in the concentration achievable from dryland vineyards, producing some of the finest wines in the world. The oldest vines on the farm were planted in 1974, a Pinotage block my grandfather and father made wine from, followed by myself and my young son”.
Three generations in the Diemersdal vineyards
Family legacies are a unique selling point for the Robertson Wine Valley, where generations have deposited heart and soul into the land. Rietvallei is a 215-hectare family farm planted with 119 hectares of vines. It has been in the custodianship of the Burger family for six generations – Alewyn Burger bought the farm for his son (Jacobus Francois) in 1864. The latter planted the legendary 1908-muscadel, a quarter of a hectare still yielding outstanding quality.
Sixth-generation CEO Kobus Burger chuckles as he tells how his dad became rather anxious when his first two children were girls.
Kobus Burger and his family on Rietvallei in Robertson
“My great-great-grandfather had 20 children, and he adopted another child. When they skipped a baptism one year, the priest visited the farm, fearing illness had befallen their household!”
To his father's relief, twin boys made their appearance four years later to continue the family tradition.
“My late father opened many doors for us, releasing the first wine under the Rietvallei brand in 1976 and building a cellar with cold fermentation facilities in the 80s”.
Apart from falling in love with cultivars like Cabernet Franc, he still makes the Rietvallei 1908 Red Muscadel.
“When my father arrived at the farm, a man called Jan Vytjie taught him how to make Muscadel from a recipe my grandfather nailed to the back of the cellar door”.
A staggering 94 points affirmed his grandfather's winning formula for the 2018 vintage of this wine, with generational knowledge adding that pinch of excellence. The Rietvallei Cabernet Franc 2016 (92 points) was tight on its heels, a testimony of every generation's unique contribution.
Kobus Burger - CEO of Rietvallei wine estate
The Du Toitskloof mountains guard Merwida Winery's 800 hectares of vineyards in the Breede River Valley, where Willem Petrus van der Merwe laid the foundation eight generations ago; today, it is one of the largest private cellars and leading Fairtrade producers in Southern Africa.
Embracing the sustainability theme for the 2022 Cape Wine Expo in October, Merwida intends to highlight its generational commitment to viticulture.
The Merwida family
While owner-cousins Schalk and Pierre van der Merwe are farming with their sons, the custodians of a 1,000-hectare sustainable gem comprising 600 hectares of protected wetlands, Schalk's daughter Lieza, the only female, ties up the operation as marketing and facility manager.
“While being mindful of rejuvenating the brand, our core philosophy is to preserve everything and everyone around us, including animals and plants, for future generations”.
Passionate about its communities, the family established a community centre on the farm with indoor sporting facilities, a day-care centre, and an after-school learning facility with access to much-needed stationery.
They have recently opened a tasting room, “a natural progression when younger generations became involved”.
Pierre and Schalk Van Der Merwe - Brothers and owners of Merwida
Opstal's pristine surroundings are a vital selling point for this Breedekloof farm in the Slanghoek Valley, but so is its story. Here, seven family generations helped carve out its unique brand equity, with the third generation of farmworkers contributing to their success.
“A particular dynamic exists in a family business, regardless of the scale and the generational assemblage”, explains winemaker Attie Louw, now holding the reins.
“Our great-great-grandfather and the generations that followed were excellent farmers and laid that foundation for us. Everything is built on sustainable practices, yet we are in our infancy as a brand”.
They are unapologetic about showing the unique essence of Slanghoek, utilising the natural acidity of Carignan and Pinotage, the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon and the juiciness of Grenache in their Carl Everson Cape Blend 2019.
The Louw Family from Opstal Zak, Karmin, Ria, Stanley and Attie
“Beautifully made” came the verdict with 94 points for this Elgin Estate's Riesling Noble Late Harvest 2021, their classic Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2019 scoring 93 points.
The Cluver family embodies pioneering Elgin excellence, their 2,000-hectare De Rust farm home to the first cool-climate Elgin vineyards.
By 1821, 4,500 ox-wagons annually crossed the steep and treacherous mountains hiding this lush valley on the other side, but no-one dreamt of planting vines here. In 1948, the Cluvers planted fruit orchards, yet it was only in 1987 when Dr. Paul Cluver partnered with the viticulturist Ernst Le Roux, that the first vines were planted.
With a fourth-generation family business that didn't originate as a wine farm, Dr Cluver believes wine is what holds the family together.
“It gives me enormous satisfaction to work with an expert family team and be surrounded by passionate young people every day”, shares patriarch Dr. Cluver.
His great-grandfather Mathys De Villiers bought the farm in 1896 and wrote in his will that it was not to be sold for four generations. However, when Dr. Cluver's father was due to take over, he was an established psychiatrist in Cape Town. His wife Getrude gave up her comfortable life to manage a farm with no electricity and started the De Rust Futura school on the farm in 1957, boasting 1,000 learners today.
A similar path awaited Dr. Cluver's wife, Songvei, when he became a brain surgeon, even though she had electricity, and he left the practice in 1989 and joined her at the farm.
“This year marks our winemaker (his son-in-law) Andries Burger's 26th harvest. And, apples would never have intrigued three of my children to join the family business!”
The Cluver Family
Bosman Family Vineyards
The Bosman family always refers to the generations of working families on their Wellington farm, believing in the dual power of their success. So, they founded the Adama Appolo Trust in 2008, giving the workers (some going back five generations) a 26% share in the business.
Their motto, Fides, Spes et Amor (Faith, Hope, Love) is palpable in every facet of the business as they live and work together, passing on values and skills from one generation to the next.
The first Bosman arrived at the cape of good hope in 1707 and the family continues the legacy
The farm's history dates to 1699 and that of the Bosman Family to 1810 when De Groene Fonteijn farm was divided between the children and Jacobus Johannes Malan named his portion Lelienfontein. In 1890, his daughter Sophia Elizabeth married a transport rider Petrus Wilhelmus Jacobus Bosman, who came to Lelienfontein to buy carthorses.
A 50-year break in winemaking followed as they focused on the vine nursery. Still, Petrus Bosman (eighth generation) was adamant about reopening the old cellar and returned after graduating in accounting in 2004. A boutique cellar opened in 2007, and in 2013, the holding company JC Bosman Boerdery was renamed Bosman Adama (Pty) Ltd. It incorporates wine, the vine nursery and plant improvement. Adama was the nickname of Adam Appollis, the patriarch of the families who had lived and worked on the farm for several generations. In 2022 they bought a state-of-the-art production cellar in the Paardeberg.
Bosman wines dates back eight generations
Their commitment includes Fairtrade accreditation, IWC Champion status, organic certification, and raising awareness for sustainable outcomes in a business model applied to a healthy environment and empowered people. It includes the preservation of vineyards that are no longer commercially viable but vital in the storytelling of South African wines.
“Creating opportunities for advancement within our communities is not simply a good idea; it is a way of life. We are already working on a strategy for the ninth generation in 2040 to see what would make the business more sustainable”, shares Bosman.
This translates into their wines with credible stories built into every range, like the consistent achiever, Bosman Adama White 2021, scoring 91 points.
“When you focus on added value for people and nature, you see immense growth. My father was always positive about South African agriculture, which excited his children to become involved”.
Petrus and Carla Bosman with their children on Lelienfontein
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