Bush vines, also known as 'goblet vines', sprawl across the ground at Welgegund. Picture: Karen Watkins
Bush vines, also known as ‘goblet vines’, sprawl across the ground at Welgegund. Picture: Karen Watkins

Welgegund is known for their heritage bush vines. KAREN WATKINS chats to Welgegund’s winemaker Friedrich Kühne about the farm.

In the folds of the Hawequa mountains in Wellington, on a road known as ‘the horseshoe’, Welgegund has a historic pedigree.

“That’s the cinsaut block, it was planted way before our time,” says Welgegund winemaker Friedrich Kühne pointing to a sprawling mass of bush vines.

These are not your regular manicured, neatly terraced vines that are sometimes head high, burgeoned by bunches of voluminous purple or green grapes underpinned by sprinkler systems and weed free soil.

Instead, bush vines, also known as ‘goblet vines’, sprawl across the ground providing a canopy which shades the grapes from harsh sunlight. The crop is smaller resulting in small berries with thicker skins and concentrated flavours. Pruning and harvesting processes on bush vines is done by hand.

Welgegund winemaker Friedrich Kühne with marketing manager Emy Mathews. Picture: Karen Watkins
Welgegund winemaker Friedrich Kühne with marketing manager Emy Mathews. Picture: Karen Watkins

Berries brimming with colour, intense concentration

Friedrich says these low yielding, dryland bush vines and the 2016 drought created berries brimming with colour and intense concentration producing exceptional vintages.

“Our single vineyard cinsaut and grenache noir are normally destined for blending, but when I saw the exceptional quality of these varietals in the barrel I had to do single cultivar.”

It’s only a short distance from Wellington, along Berg Street, turning-off along an oak lined cul de sac, to reach the 35 hectare wine farm. We had phoned ahead for a wine tasting and were greeted by dogs and Emy Mathews. Her accent revealed that she hails from wine farming stock in Hungary. Her passion for wine is the driving force behind the farms marketing effort.

The tasting was held in the dining room of the 1820 manor house which has been tastefully restored and refurbished by owners Gavin and Kelly Brimacombe since 2014. Welgegund was established in 1777 and once the property of Cecil John Rhodes, the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in the late 1800s. It was eventually consolidated into Rhodes Fruit Farms after his death.

Welgegund means well bestowed and, tasting their latest vintages, they are living up to the name. Since being one of the best fruit farms in the Boland it has blossomed as a wine farm, thanks to the ideal combination of terroir, climate, and expertise.

Friedrich says the ancient decomposed granite yields vines that produce intensely flavoured fruit. Added to this are cool breezes tumbling down the valley from the Bains Kloof Pass making a climate ideal for producing Rhône style varieties.

Welgegund uses cinsaut, Shiraz, chenin blanc and grenache gris grape varieties, as well as carignan, which has its roots in Spain, but is known as a southern French grape.

The barrel-fermented Welgegund chenin blanc 2017 is from 44-year old vines and has received numerous awards as did the Welgegund Providence 2015, a fruit-driven Rhône-style blend of 60% shiraz, 30% cinsaut (1974 vineyard) and 10% carignan.

Welgegund’s heritage blocks: chenin (1974), cinsaut (1974), and carignan (1979) are part of the Old Vine Project, an industry initiative dedicated to recognising the Cape’s wine heritage. Vineyards older than 35 years are being honoured with certified heritage vineyard plaques.

South Africa is said to have more surviving old vines than any other wine growing country in the world, a total of 3200 hectare. And this is why much effort is going into reviving and extending the lives of these old-timers.

Other heritage buildings on the Welgegund wine estate are also being renovated to become a tasting room and guest suites.

What: Welgegund wine estate
Where: Welgegund, Wellington, South Africa
Wine tasting by appointment: 021 873 2123, emathews@welgegund.co.za
WS