There is a grape vine that grows in one of the most unlikely places in the world. Just 15kms from the ‘Mother City’ of Cape Town and across the icy Atlantic ocean waters is a small island, famous for its prisoners – above all, the late and celebrated Nelson Mandela. From the start of his prison sentence, as he patiently waited for his release, Mandela asked the authorities for permission to start a small garden in the corner of the courtyard. Against all odds, and despite the fact that the soil was dry and made up of broken shells, a few plants grew, among them a grape vine.
Almost 50 years later, that grapevine has a real story to tell. Located just as you enter into Bonnievale within the Robertson Wine Valley, Weltevrede Wine Estate is simple and authentic. You might not even notice it. But it’s just that that makes it even more important to check yourself and remember that every farm has so many stories to tell, and sometimes, you just have to sit down and listen. It was with this approach that we were absolutely blown away by our experience, as Elzette the PR Manager-extraordinaire shepherded a small group of visitors around the back of the winery, through a completely unassuming door and into a 100-year-old cellar, lined with candles and concrete vats, and proceeded to tell us the story of the Seven Vines …
“About 7 years ago, one of the main things Weltevrede owner, Philip Jonker, was busy with was Robben Island. He had recently visited the island and spotted seven, untended vines. He said his farming heart told him to nurse those vines back to health. So he started going back and forth from Weltevrede to Robben Island, pruning the vines, spraying them and covering them because the seagulls just loved to help themselves to the grapes. But for seven years, there was no vintage.
Then in 2012, when Weltevrede reached their 100 years of winemaking and Mr. Mandela was 94 years old, the vine gave us 200kgs of grapes. We were overwhelmed and unprepared, with workers going to collect the grapes in cooler bags and plastic packets. Getting the grapes back to the farm was a logistical issue in itself, because we weren’t allowed to bring grapes to Weltevrede if they weren’t declared. Philip had to go past Wines of South Africa in Stellenbosch to declare that we had 200kgs of grapes from Robben Island. After lots of paperwork because Robben Island is not a wine growing area and the cultivar is not known in South Africa, we managed to bring the grapes in.
We made 5 magnum bottles of MCC and 20 bottles of sweet wine. The Cap Classique didn’t last because the sugar wasn’t ripe, but we made 20 bottles of beautiful sweet wine. It was bottled as the Parable, and one bottle was handed over to Mr. Mandela himself. Not long after, Philip received the most beautiful letter in the mail from Mr. Mandela, writing that his manuscript for ‘A Long Walk to Freedom’ was buried under one of those vines, and he was so happy that Philip is still looking after the vines that were his only view to the outside from his barred window in solitary confinement. Today, Philip continues to be the custodian of the vines, but since the passing of Mandiba, there hasn’t been another vintage.”
Remember, each vine, each wine and each winemaker swirls with tales to share, and there is nothing tastier than pairing a good wine with a good story. It just makes it taste oh-so-much-better.