KERRY BOTHA visits the Wildekrans Wine Estate on the R43 on the road to Hermanus
Cape wines have had a bad rap. Historically, the legacy of the notorious Tot System (dopstelsel) resulted in systemic alcoholism among Western Cape farm workers. More recently, Danish filmmaker Tom Heinemann’s 58-minute documentary Bitter Grapes – Slavery in the Vineyards, which aired in Denmark and Sweden in October, has threatened exports.
Workers at Robertson Wineries have been on strike for more than three months and the local industry is smarting. These thoughts were top of my mind as Ryan Enslin of My Limeboots and I, turned into the white-walled entrance of the Wildekrans Wine Estate
Hidden in a valley, Wildekrans is , about 3,2km from Botrivier in the lee of the Houw Hoek Mountains to the North and the Overberg to the South.,
Framed by distant mountains, our four-star, self-catering cottage accommodation, run by Endless Vineyards, was spacious and comfortable. Benches, chairs and tables were made from recycled oak barrels and the food prepared in modern style in the recently opened restaurant was delicious food.
In the vineyards, the vines stand as straight as soldiers in a military parade. Coaxed by farm manager and viticulturist Braam Gericke, everything is nipped, tucked and suckered to perfection. Such careful husbandry aims to provide sustainable year-round crops that can provide steady annual income for employees.
Farming practices meet the rigours of WIETA promoting fair labour practice, LEAF promoting environmentally friendly farming, and BWI. In 2015, WWF’s Biodiversity & Wine Initiative awarded the estate Conservation Champion status.
Wildekrans are also the leaders in community development. Ironically, while Botrivier is ranked among the poorest communities in the Western Cape, skilled labour is scarce. “To up skill and retain our people, we had to provide year round employment,” Gericke says.
The farm plants fruit – plums (early, mid and late season) and pears; wheat, olives, multiple wine cultivars, and raises sheep. Fruit is largely exported but gleanings from the fruit trees are left in open barrels for locals.
Creosote sponges attached to the vines deter natural foragers such as birds and bokkies, while scarecrows, made by local school children, dot the landscape.
Gericke attributes much of his sustainable results to owners Gary and Amanda Harlow, who bought the Estate in 2007, and the wizardry of winemaker William Wilkinson. Together he and Gericke oversee the planting and raising of the various cultivars.
Our tour of the Estate concluded with a stop at the champagne block, when William produced two champagne flutes and popped the cork of an award-winning bottle of Méthode Cap Classique (2013). Sparkling wine flowed at 11 am amid the vines and an incredible view.
Following a tasting of more award-winning wines – Chenin Barrel Select Reserve 2014, Pinotage Barrel Select Reserve 2014 and Shiraz Barrel Select Reserve 2014 – and a wonderful lunch, I left with a sense of awe at what it takes to develop, grow and maintain a prospering wine estate in South Africa today. Wildekrans shows what can be accomplished with the determination to do what is right by the land, and by the people – despite enormous odds.