In the late 1970s, I visited De Wetshof, and indeed met Danie and his gentle father for the first time. Thirty five years later, my memories of that day are crystal clear. I remember the open concrete tank cellar, so clean you could eat off the floor, every available part of it white washed and sparkling.
Today, while in essence and in spirit De Wetshof is unchanged, De Wetshof 2012 is a very different place – a vibrant cutting edge winery producing world class wines. Danie de Wet is at the helm with a firm hand on the tiller. Here is a man of passion and his wines, and in particular his Chardonnays are the stuff of which legends are made. The tasting room and sales buildings nestle amongst purple blossomed jacarandas. The tasting room facade as well as the cellar facade are Thibault replicas – the cellar being a replica of the old Customs House, which at some stage also served as Post Office in Cape Town. The family offices, tasting and sales building is a replica of the Koopmans De Wet House in Strand Street, Cape Town, dating back to 1791 and designed by Louis Michel Thibault, one of the most renowned architects of the early days of the Cape.
The vineyards, soil mapped to identify the correct terroir for varietals, are planted in De Wetshof’s soils and sites which vary from the alluvial soils near the Breede River, which runs through the estate, to lime-rich slopes of the surrounding hills and mountains. In late Summer afternoons cool breezes from cold southern seas create chilly nights and misty moisty mornings. Lime rich gravel soils are irrigated with the aid of a fully computerised irrigation system, a great asset promoting the quality of the grapes. Due to the dry climate, and low pest and fungal activity, spraying is minimal compared to other wine growing regions. Danie is assisted in the viticultural activities by Californian viticulturist, Dr Phil Freese, well known for his design of the iconic Opus One vineyards for Robert Mondavi. He also initiated a remote sensing project with NASA that has spawned a new wave of tools for viticulture analysis and quality enhancement.
Social programme on the Estate
Danie and his wife Lesca, were also pioneers in social responsibility for their workforce. This has resulted in computers being used in the Estate’s crèche, pre- and after-school care centre. The crèche was started as early as the late 1980s and the care centre in the mid-1990s – both hugely successful. This can be measured by the high pass rate of many of the students who passed through its doors and are now in primary and high school. Education for all ages is of high importance on the estate. Adult learning classes are very successful and all spheres are touched on from aids and drug programmes to financial and social responsibilities.
Technical education is however the highest priority and the best achiever here is Mervyn Williams, who went from gardener to winemaker of the estate within ten years. He tastes on the Wine and Spirit Board and has worked two harvests in Burgundy. He was also the runner-up in the Employee of the Year for Proudly South African in 2005.
Bennie Stipp is De Wetshof’s marketing man. We got to know him in the 1990s when he used to call on us at our restaurant, Parks in Constantia.
Summer late afternoons receive cool breezes from cold southern seas creating chilly nights are and misty moisty mornings. Lime rich gravel soils are irrigated with the aid of a fully computerised irrigation system a great asset promoting the quality of the grapes. Due to the dry climate, and low pest and fungal activity spraying is minimal compared to other wine growing regions.
A Celebration of Chardonnay is held on De Wetshof where the Golden Vine Award was made to Garth Stroebel for his support and promotion of Cape Wines and Chardonnay in particular. Dr Bill Gallagher received it the previous year for support to the wine industry throughout his glittering career as the doyen of South African Chefs.
The future is well cared for too as Danie and Lesca’s sons Johann and Peter join them in the business – the third generation of De Wets on the family farm.
They are part of a new generation of young winemakers and marketers emerging in the ranks to take their place alongside their parents at wineries in the Cape.
Johann is working on the farm in the Marketing division and Peter joined up after spending time studying and working in Germany and France and serving a season with Pieter Ferreira at nearby Graham Beck Wines and Cape Chamonix. Peter is producing the Estate’s MCC.
Winegrowing area Robertson, owner and winemaker, Danie de Wet.