Wellington Wine Route: friendly wine estates


I spent the past weekend in my old hometown Wellington, and stayed at Grand Dédale Country House  on the Doolhof wine estate, at the end of the Bovlei Road.   Angelo of Grand Dédale had set up some appointments to visit the private wine estates (Nabygelegen and Klein Optenhorst).  My wine estate visits were concentrated on the Bovlei Road (4 km of it is untarred, which rattled me and the car when I first arrived, but two days later it was no longer an issue), and my impression of this first taste of the fine Wellington wineries is one of overwhelming friendliness and good neighbourliness.  I did not manage to visit all the wine estates in Wellington, and Welvanpas, Bosman Family Vineyards, Andreas, the Jorgensen Distillery (not a wine estate but producing very exciting spirits), and others will have to wait for a next visit:


The 380 ha wine estate lies at the end of the Bovlei Road, and while its name means labyrinth in Afrikaans, a cul de sac was also given this name.  Doolhof belongs to Dorothy and Dennis Kerrison.  Its soils are “finer, more balanced and deeper than in the surrounding countryside, with clay content evenly distributed”.  The roots are able to grow to four meters and beyond, the Room Directory informs Grand Dédale guests.   The location of the farm allows it to have cooler summers and warmer winters than the norm in Wellington.  Less than 10 % of the farm is under vine.  Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot, Pinotage and Shiraz are grown.  The remainder of the farmland is uncultivated, and consists largely of fynbos.  The Biodiversity and Wine Initiative is supported by Doolhof, and a programme is in place to remove alien Black Wattles, and to plant indigenous wetland plants and trees.  The cellar was started in 2004, and the tasting room once was the stables on the farm.   Its architecture and interior decor reflects that of Grand Dédale Country House on the wine estate, but is less extravagant.  The Doolhof hostess used the word “elegant” to describe it perfectly.  One can sit inside the spacious airconditioned tasting room, or outside at a water feature.   One can order food as well, I was told, and an arrangement with Grand Dédale Country House to provide this service has ended, with a dedicated chef starting next week, to prepare meals for the Doolhof tasting room visitors.  

There are three Doolhof wine ranges, and their labels are equally elegant:

*   the Cape range is the entry level range, and its wines are a blend of own grapes as well as those of other estates.  Sauvignon Blanc, Cape Robin Rosé, Cape Boar (Merlot-based blend) and Cape Roan blend with Shiraz.  The price ranges from R 33 – R49.

*   the Signatures of Doolhof range is made from Doolhof grapes only, and Sauvignon Blanc (R54), Chardonnay Unwooded (R54), Chardonnay Barrel Fermented (R92), Cabernet Sauvignon (R70), Shiraz (R70), Pinotage (R86), Petit Verdot R124), Renaissance blend (R80), Merlot (R81) and Malbec (R124) is produced.  

*   the Legends of the Labyrinth range has three wines: The Minotaur is the most expensive wine sold at Doolhof, at R150, and is a blend of six grapes: Merlot, Malbec,  Petit Verdot, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz;  Lady in Red is a Bordeaux-style blend (R70); and Dark Lady is a Pinotage with chocolate and mocha aromas (R70). 

The Doolhof Tasting Room staff are smartly dressed, in blue shirts with Doolhof branding.  Natasha was a self-confident and knowledgeable hostess, and made photocopies of more detailed notes on each wine, in colour, and for each wine a suitable food pairing suggestion is provided.  A stem tag identifies the wine one is tasting, a professional touch.  The brochure is attractive and professional looking.   One can join the ‘Denizens of Doolhof Wine Club’, a rather unfortunate name!  The wine estate is largely bottling with cork, but is planning to move more towards screwcaps in future.

It seems a shame that Grand Dédale and Doolhof do not interact more, by displaying each others brochures.  The Grand Dédale Room Directory has detailed information about the wine estate.  Both are on Twitter, and should support each other in that medium too.   The Doolhof wines dominate the Grand Dédale wine list.

Doolhof Wine Estate, Bovlei Road, Wellington.  Tel (021) 873- 6911. www.doolhof.com Monday – Saturday 10h00 – 17h00, Sunday 10h00 – 16h00

Dunstone Winery

Dunstone Boutique Winery opened in 2006, and 2,7 ha of the 4 ha is planted to vine.  The name of the winery was chosen by its owners Lee and Abbi Wallis, Dunstone being the place in the United Kingdom in which the couple got engaged.  A lot is made of the ‘stone’ part of the Dunstone name, in that the entrance wall is built from stone, there is a stone display as one walks from the tasting room to the garden, the vases with fly-deterrent branches have little stones in them, and the bill for The Stone Kitchen restaurant (separate review to come) comes with a large stone on the silver holder, to prevent it from flying away.   I felt that the wine estate is “schizophrenic”, in not knowing what character it wishes to have, judging by its entrance, building and interior.  The most beautiful stainless steel Weimaraner dog logo is erected on each of the walls at the entrance, in honour of the Wallis’ dog named Shiraz.  The stainless steel dogs lead one to expect a very high-tech winery, being so new and with its strong use of stainless steel, and also as the winery calls itself ’boutique’, but the wine tasting building is very ordinary, without a defined architectural style.   But what is even odder is the cottagey wood furniture in the tasting room, which also is the interior seating for the restaurant.  The restaurant tables and chairs look really old-fashioned, and a long table has benches with cushions on them in different colours and patterns – the material from these have been laminated, and are used as (small) place mats in the restaurant.  A lamp above the wine tasting counter has been made from a ‘wingerdstok’, and has fairy lights laced through it.  The big stainless steel vats are in the room too, as is a display fridge with chef Johan van Schalkwyk’s muffins to buy, and some of his jams and muesli mixes which he sells, as well as trays of desserts he was serving at a wedding that same evening, as he also runs a catering company called Twist.  The beautiful brochure for the winery creates even more confusion, in that it has a beautiful image of the Weimaraner logo on the stone wall, in silver, on the front cover, again giving the winery a very hi-tech image.  The Dunstone labels also have the Weimaraner logo on them, also in silver.   

Carina Stock is a friendly German wine hostess, and she will be increasingly involved in all aspects of the wine production.  She studied art and jewellery design, and spent many years at Uitkyk, in restoring wallpaintings.  She has worked at Boschendal and at DG Bellingham.  More than 11000 bottles are produced per year.   At Dunstone all vineyard work is done by hand, and tractors are not used.     Carina offered me four Dunstone wines to taste: 

Rosé 2010 (R45):   Crisp and dry, with strawberry, raspberries and plum.

Merlot 2007 (R65): Silver Medal won at Veritas Awards 2008 – full-bodied, ripe dark fruit, spices and oak, matured in French oak barrels for up to 14 months.  The Merlot 2008 (R65) is a lighter wine.

Shiraz 2009 (R120): First 5-star Platter rating for a Wellington wine, in 2010 edition, for the 2008 vintage, as well as Gold won at International Wine Challenge and Old Mutual Trophy Awards, and Double Gold at Michelangelo Awards.  2008 vintage sold out.  2009 vintage described by Jancis Robinson as “Dry, baked nose but sufficiently juicy fruit on the palate.”  The wine is matured in French, Hungarian and American oak for up to 14 months, is heavier, and “with a long finish”.     

Adi Badenhorst is the consultant winemaker.  Alli’s father Robert Frith is always on the farm during the harvest, Carina said.  He encouraged the Wallis couple to take out some of the guava trees, and plant grapes, being a garagiste in the UK.  Wine lovers are encouraged to come and help harvest the grapes and to participate in the winemaking process, even stomping the grapes, a personalised participation.  One must call to ensure that there is harvest or winemaking activity taking place on a given day.

Dunstone Winery, Bovlei Road, Wellington.  Tel (021) 873-6770. www.dunstone.co.za  Open Monday – Friday 10h00 – 17h00, Saturday 11h00 – 15h00. 

 Bovlei Cellar

As one drives out of Wellington, towards the Bain’s Kloof Pass, the Bovlei winery is on the right, a co-operative of 32 farmers producing 8000 tonnes per year.  Established in 1907, it is the oldest in Wellington (there are two others) and is the second oldest co-operative in South Africa, I was told by Tasting Room hostess Melissa van Wyk.   The wines sold at Bovlei are extremely good value, but range in Platter rating from 2 – 3,5 stars.

There are four ranges:

*   The winemakers selected specific grapes from specific members’ farms to make the Vineyard Selected Range, consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and a Shiraz/Mouvedré blend, all costing R50

*  the rest of the members’ grapes go into the making of their Lifestyle range, consisting of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Beaukett, Gewürztraminer and Special Late Harvest, all costing between R 22 – R25.  The reds are Pinotage, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, at R30 a bottle.  Rosé costs R20, and a sparkling Brut R30.  The Shiraz won the Best Shiraz and Best Red in the 2010 “Quest for the Best” of Wellington competition. 

*   The Thomas Kipling range is available in Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Red, Dry White and Cabernet/Merlot blend, made exclusively for Pick ‘n Pay, Game and other liquor outlets, starting off at R19,99.

*   The Bovlei Centenary Selection is available in a Shiraz, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, each costing R35, a 100th birthday celebratory range made in 2007.

Bovlei Cellar, Bain’s Kloof Road, Wellington. Tel (021) 873-1567.  www.bovlei.co.za  Monday – Friday 8h00 – 17h00, Saturday 8h30 – 12h30. 


I was extremely fortunate to get an appointment to meet James McKenzie, from the private wine estate that is highly rated by wine writer Neil Pendock, I was told.   A misunderstanding about my expected time of arrival was quickly forgiven by James, and he patiently sat with me, doing a detailed tasting of his Nabygelegen and Snow Mountain ranges. He told me that he bought the 35ha farm (19,5ha under vine) ten years ago, having been a banker in London and Zürich.  He was so determined to become a winemaker that he studied wine making by correspondence course, and first worked on wine farms in France, Spain, New Zealand and Chile, to learn from them.  The farm dates back to 1712, and one of his wines is named after this date.  He is hands-on, harvesting, marketing, receiving journalists, wine-making, organising the use of the cottage by guests, and the planned use of the old stables as a winetasting facility and restaurant.  Johan Wiese is a consultant viticulturist for Nabygelegen.  The pricelist states that his wines are “handcrafted wines”.  The brochure states the mission of Nabygelegen to be “To create of wines character and concentration reflecting vineyard specific terroir, using environmentally sound techniques, subscribe to ethical labour practices and enthusiastically pursue upliftment in the valley”.  It recommends a suitable food type to eat with each of the wines.  James makes the Nabygelegen range, utilising grapes from his own farm, which consists of the following:

*   Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (R40) – very fruity, the best Sauvignon Blanc he has made to date, James said, and his 2010 vintage of 6000 bottles has just sold out

*   Lady Anna 2009 (R32) – a light and fruity chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc and semillion blend, named after the neighbouring farm owner Anna Lategan, who is respected for having freed her slaves a number of years ahead of the official abolition of slavery in 1815.  Her ghost is said to wander on Nabygelegen and De Compagne, the neighbouring farm!

*   Chenin Blanc 2009 (R45) – full-bodied chenin, which is barrel fermented

*   Scaramanga 2008 (R50) – the Spanish nickname for Tempranillo, and also the name of the “baddie” character in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ Bond movie. Tempranillo is one of the grape types from which this wine is made, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  It is made in the New World style, with focus on its flavour and smell. Only four wine estates grow Tempranillo in South Africa.  It is an upfront wine.

*   Merlot 2007 (R62) – sweet cherry and berry

*   Petit Verdot 2008 (R80) – intense fruit with layers of vanilla and chocolate

*   Seventeen Twelve 2006 (R90) – a classic Bordeaux Blend of Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon,

The Snow Mountain range was launched last year, out of a need for a more pronounceable name for the English market, and it was named after Sneeukop, the highest mountain peak in Wellington.  The grapes are bought in from other Wellington farms, which are higher up, and therefore grow in a ‘continental climate’ and not a Mediterranean one, as do most other local wines, excellent for the production of the Pinot Noir in particular, he said.

*   Rosé 2009 (R30) – made in the French style, not sweet, served at Wimbledon

*   Pinot Noir 2009 (R90) – highly regarded, has been served at Kensington and Buckingham Palaces

One of James’ greatest enjoyments is the ‘number of beautiful places’ in which his wines are sold.  I asked him which these are, and his top three are the following: Librije’s in Zusje in Holland; Claridges in London; and The Green and Blue Wine Shop in London, owned by ex-South African Kate Thal.  We started tasting in the tasting room initially, tasting the whites and Rosé, then walked through the maturation cellar, which is used as a function venue, for which James’ friend Matthew Gordon from Franschhoek cooks, and tasted the Pinot Noir and reds in a most special tiny underground cellar, which has a glass window showing the soil depth and the rock formation.   I was lucky enough to be given a bottle of the Snow Mountain Shiraz 2009, which has not yet been released.

Nabygelegen, Bovlei Road, Wellington.  Tel (021) 873-7534.  www.nabygelegen.co.za  Monday – Friday 10h00 – 16h30, Saturday 9h00 – 12h30.

Klein Optenhorst

Jenny and Naas Ferriera have lived on Klein Optenhorst since 1987, on a farm that once was the home of my classmate Beverly Pywell and her family, and which I had visited for birthday parties.   A small 1 ha property has Pinot Noir grapes and the most beautiful garden, which the Ferreiras developed over time.   A gazebo with a whale weathervane has become the logo for the boutique wine estate, and caught my eye immediately.   Since 1994 the family produced Pinot Noir, but last year decided to make a Pinot Noir MCC sparkling wine instead, utilising the talents of Pieter Ferriera, whose wife Ann is the niece of Naas.   I was offered a glass of the beautiful bubbly by Ferreira daughter Jane Eedes, who is marketing the sparkling wine, a total of 1592 bottles of this maiden vintage having been produced. The inspiration for the label design by Eddy Haumann is the salvias from Jenny’s garden.  I was treated to a guided tour of the garden, and was most generously given a bottle of the Pinot Noir as well as the Pinot Noir MCC.  

Klein Optenhorst, Bovlei Road, Wellington.  Tel Jane Eedes 083 324 6855.


Located at the entrance to Wellington from the Paarl side, Diemersfontein has become a ‘residential estate’, is a wine farm, a spa, has a preparatory school, and has 30 rooms of accommodation.  I have not been to Diemersfontein for many years, and have not ever drunk their wines nor seen their wine tasting room.  I had booked a table for lunch, and had a vision of an old manor house with a big stoep, which was the original Diemersfontein homestead.  It is only used as accommodation and David Sonnenberg, the current owner, has an office there, I was told.  The Sonnenberg family (linked to Woolworths) has owned Diemersfontein since 1943, and originally apricots were the main fruit harvest.   Then export plums were farmed.      Wine has been made in the past ten years, and the property is described as a “Residential Wine Estate”.

 I was disappointed to find a modern building which houses both the restaurant Seasons (see review) and the Tasting Room.    The Tasting Room was not immediately visible, and we could not work out which door was unlocked, to allow us to enter.  It is small, compared to some of the others I visited in Wellington over the weekend, just containing a counter with bar chairs.   Aubern was friendly, and hunted down the last brochure for the wine estate.  Brett Rightford is the cellarmaster, and he is responsible for making all the Diemersfontein wines other than Pinotage, which is the responsibility of Francois Roode.

There are three ranges at Diemersfontein, for which 70 % of the grapes come from the estate, and the remainder are bought from other Wellington farms.  The Platter star rating of each wine is listed on the price list:

*   Carpe Diem is the flagship, and its wines are matured in French and American oak for 15 months as a minimum.  The Pinotage 2008 was awarded 4,5 stars by Platter, and is sold out.   Prices are on the high side, between R 89 (Chenin Blanc and Viognier) and R110 for Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Malbec.

*   The Diemersfontein range spends 6 months in oak, and is priced at R70, only the Pinotage being slightly more expensive.  There is a Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Summer’s Lease Shiraz-based blend and a Heaven’s Eye Bordeaux-style blend.  A red blend called “For the Birds!” sells at a low price of R45, and 10 % of sales goes to the “Save our Seabirds” Fund of Birdlife South Africa 

*   The Thokozani range was launched last year, and is an empowerment project, with staff, investors and the Sonnenbergs as shareholders, and Aubern is focused on his goal to become a shareholder too.  The Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay/Viognier blend costs R49, Rosé R 39, and the Shiraz/Mourvedré/Viognier blend costs R 69.

For its good reputation, duration of wine production, and stature of wine estate, I was disappointed with the lack of marketing collateral, photocopied price list, and the ‘ordinariness’ and small size of the tasting room. Diemersfontein came across as the most ‘commercialised’ of the Wellington wine estates I visited, yet was friendly too.

Diemersfontein Wines,  Jan van Riebeeck Drive, Wellington.   Tel (021) 864-5050. www.diemersfontein.co.za  Monday – Sunday 10h00 – 17h00.

A tear-off map of Wellington’s accommodation, wine estates, restaurants and shops was printed about three years ago, but does not appear to have been updated.  It is similar to the excellent Franschhoek Wine Valley map, providing not only a location perspective, but also the contact details and tasting times.   It appears to have been replaced with a recent brochure on Wellington.   An update of the tear-off map for the wine estates would be a good idea, to encourage winelovers to visit as many wine estates as they can.   A website of the Wellington Wine Route, or even a blog, may be a consideration too.

 Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com   Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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4 replies on “Wellington Wine Route: friendly wine estates”

  1. Richard says:

    Nice write up Chris of one of my favourite wine valleys. Largely unexplored and understated, with great beauty, real people and some very good wines (especially that Dunstone Shiraz). I suspect it wont stay undiscoverd for long especially with a flagship property like Grande Dedale bringing visitors from all across the globe.

  2. Chris von Ulmenstein says:

    Thank you Richard, and agree fully.

    I am sorry I never got to taste the Dunstone Shiraz 2008.

    I hear you are doing a wedding or two at Grand Dedale – what a stunning venue.


  3. Hennie @ Batonage says:

    Hi Chris

    Nice write up. We also made a weekend of it last year and visited most of the farms you mention here. When you’re out that way again, drop in at Mischa and Bosman. We were treated very well at both.

    James McKenzie phoned a few minutes ago. Thanks for that.

    Just a note on Dunstone – the one black spot on our weekend there. We had made an appointment to visit them (as we did with all the wineries we visited that weekend). They were extremely forthcoming and accommodating, and said that when we arrive, we should just phone and someone will meet us at the winery to show us around and let us taste the wine. Upon arrival, we phoned and were told that they’re unable to come down to the winery, we must come up to the guesthouse instead. Annoying, because I can buy wine and drink it at my own guesthouse instead. We were also not told that the Shiraz is not for tasting. The attendant poured the Merlot, buggered off and left us sitting there waiting for the Shiraz. We were not amused!

  4. Chris von Ulmenstein says:

    Always great to receive your input and feedback Hennie.

    I was probably lucky because Angelo of Grand Dedale sent an e-mail to the wineries on the Bovlei Road, to say that I was spending the weekend, so that may have helped, but they are open until 5 pm on Saturdays anyway. I found them extremely obliging, and my only disappointment was the decor.

    Happy to hear that you have connected with James McKenzie of Nabygelegen – what a nice guy!

    Happy drinking with your Black Delilah!


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