Cinderella of the Breede
Bonnievale is the beginning or the far side of the Robertson Wine Valley. It all depends on your point of view - and whether you're coming from town or the interior. Bypassed by Route 62 on the main Robertson-to-Montagu road, the dozen or so wineries are often missed by tourists speeding on their way between Cape Town and Oudtshoorn. They don't know what they're missing on the less travelled road.
A new generation of boutique cellars has joined the ranks of a leading Cape cellar like Weltevrede along the fertile banks of the Cinderella of the Breede. A diversion off canna row over the old red bridge takes you into the hills past newer cellars like Quando, Janeza and Wolvendrift - and older ones like Goedverwacht and Langverwacht. The wineries on the horseshoe of the Breede River are developing a reputation for signature Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as well as new red blends like Red Wolf and Tresuva (Janeza).
Wine tourism is a new crop. Typical of the synergy, Etienne Bruwer, is a third-generation grape and fruit grower on the farm Shalom - his wife Theronda Bruwer runs the Bonnievale Tourism Office as well the official website of Route 62 (www.route62.co.za). A supplier of grapes to Nordale Winery - maker of a single vineyard Captain's Drift Shiraz under the direction of Newald Marais (ex-Nederburg) - Etienne says, 'We've got to supplement farming income with tourism revenue by getting feet into the area from the outside. The trouble is many tourists on Route 62 tend to bypass Bonnievale.'
The road to Merwenstein Guest Farm runs past Merwespont, a 50-year-old winery with 35 members. One of the oldest grape and fruit farms (1830) in the Bonnievale area has also diversified into 'agri-tourism' - along with massive plantings of persimmons and pomegranates for export. Hugo and Heidi van der Merwe have entertained hundreds of foreign and local tourists over Merwespont wines and traditional fare in the farm kitchen.
On a farm tour, visitors learn about new red plantings of Shiraz, Merlot, Pinotage and Ruby Cabernet - and why Cabernet Sauvignon vines are grafted to Hanepoot rootstock to accelerate production for the Merwespont wines, including the Agulhas blended brands. Three brothers - Hugo, Jan and Willem van der Merwe - have planted Chardonnay in three places - 'the vineyards in the alluvial soils where the roots grow deep', on shallow rocky terrain, and in double-rows away from the river which are handpicked.
On the outskirts of Bonnievale, de Wijngarten boutique is the place to buy the wines of the area - as well as Tim Jan, a fortified 'wonder juice' made from aloes and grape juice said to cure all ills from snoring to intestinal problems. The label warns you should only drink it fifteen minutes before going to bed!
Last but not least, the newly renovated Van Zylshof cellar on one of the longest main streets in the country is celebrating its tenth vintage under its own label. If you ask nicely, they'll take you for a ride in the novel kuipe lift down to the cellar to taste their delicious Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, one of the new big reds coming out of the Robertson Wine Valley. Bonnievale is booming.
17 May 2004 by Graham Howe