Off the rails in Bot River

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

I’m going to let you in on a secret. The Bot River wine route is really, really fun. And beautiful. Interesting too. Did I mention they make great wine?

Sandwiched in between two more well-known wine routes, Elgin and Hermanus, this is a ward with tractor-loads of character.

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Wildekrans Wine Estate [+27 (0) 28 284 9902] is one of the oldest estates in Bot River. And one of the largest too. It’s not all about winemaking here; there are fruit trees as well as cattle and game.

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Unusually, the entrance to the farm isn’t flanked by oaks or blue gums but rather each tree is a different species: an arbour homage to Bot River’s natural diversity. On the way to the tasting room, signposts warn us to keep a look out for wild rabbits, steenbuck, ducks and more.

We find William Wilkinson, the winemaker, inside (something that happens quite a lot around here). William confirms there’s plenty of wildlife on the farm. In fact, the owner of the estate even has a pet rooikat named Felix that she rescued.

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William pours us a taster of the estate’s Chenin Blanc MCC made from a vineyard block dating back to 1982. He tells us that because of the farm’s size (1 000 hectares) they can experiment with planting vines on different slopes, plus the sea levels vary as much as from 460 m at the highest point to seven at the lowest.

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Interestingly, they also make grappa from, you guessed it, Chenin Blanc skins.

“This is the kind of farm you can come to with your whole family,” says William, who should know – he lives in the Old Station’s Master’s House in Bot River with his wife and their toddler son.

A relatively new addition to the estate is accommodation in the form of farm cottages—so the whole family can sleep over too, among the fields of indigenous renosterbos.


A couple of tethered horses greet us at Beaumont Wines. This family-run farm was once an 18th-century outpost for the Dutch East India Company.


Looking for the wine-tasting facility we happen on a window dressed in layers of cobwebs (I explored the wonderful world of wine estate cobwebs).


Old bones beckon us towards the old vine Chenin. After stepping over a sleeping dog, we find winemaker Marelise Jansen van Rensburg conducting a tasting with the riders of the horses outside. The group is from Klein Paradys Equestrian Centre, a company offering scenic trail rides through the area, and apparently some come with winetasting too.

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“It’s more real; like in the old days,” says Marelise. “It’s not a rushed experience here, we’ve got time.”

A large oak table takes pride of place, a Persian carpet keeps the stone floor cosy, and the top skirting shelf is lined with empty wine bottles from all over the world. “We benchmark taste the best wines in the world against ours,” says the curly-haired winemaker. “All the really great ones have a spot up there.”


Then there’s the art. Among others, this charcoal drawing of a sheep is positively electric. I learn that the artist responsible is none other than Jayne Beaumont herself. She and her late husband, Raoul, were once the winemaking force here, having bought the farm in 1974. These days, their son Sebastian Beaumont is at the helm of farm operations.

“People can say what they want but wine is about the story,” says Marelise. “It can be the best wine in the world but if it doesn’t have the story, it’s not memorable.”

We contemplate this over a glass of inky Mourvèdre. Marelise tells us Beaumont was the first to plant the variety in South Africa and still has the largest allotment.

Our next stop on our journey was to be nearby Luddite Wines [+27 (0) 28 284 9308]. Home to Niels and Penny Verburg, the winery is also home to their much-acclaimed Shiraz. Plus, they have a sideline project producing charcuterie, including Parma-style ham, and pork sausages.

Unfortunately, they’re away on a trip. “When you go to Luddite, you’ll stay there the whole day,” assures Marelise. So in a way it’s a good thing as we’ve still got plenty to see.


Melissa Nelsen is the winemaker of Bot River’s most famous bubbly, Genevieve MCC [+27 (0) 83 302 6562]. She produces her Cap Classique from a small pocket of Chardonnay and has gone on to great recognition.

She’s also a passionate ‘Botriverian’ and know’s what’s what in the region. Our next destination is Gabriëlskloof [+27 (0)28 284 9865]. “Their restaurant is really good,” she says. “I recommend starting your day with the Gabriëlskloof Benedict: roosterkoek, bobotie mince, eggs and hollandaise. It’s so delicious!”


The winetasting at Gabriëlskloof also comes with a tester of their award-winning olive oil and delicious olives. The stuff is liquid gold. They’re also producers of lavender, and fittingly there are products made from both the oil and the herb available to purchase.


The tasting room itself is cosy, a touch quirky, with elegant furniture, and vaulted ceilings. I also noticed this wooden closet… It bears a striking resemblance to the one from Narnia. I’ll admit, I did look inside but there was no fawn waiting. Perhaps the room was too full of people? I’ll have to come back when it’s quieter to check again. Peter-Allan Finlayson has taken over as winemaker on the estate.


On to Barton Wines [+27 (0) 28 284 9283]. This wine estate is for the birds. Not only is the blue crane their mascot but a whole host of other winged characters join them on the farm, making it a destination for twitchers and wine lovers alike.

“They have really high-end accommodation,” says Melissa. The mountain villas are gorgeous for families or a gang of friends getting together.”

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Inside we find the winemaker PJ Geyer (see, I told you it happens all the time), enjoying a winetasting with two team members fromRivendell Wine Estate [+27 (0) 28 284 9185]. In a culinary coup, Thomas Sinn of Sinn’s Restaurant fame has been approached to run the restaurant at their elegant winery.

But back to PJ. What makes Bot River such a special place, I ask him. “The people,” he says, matter-of-factly.

“Most of us ran away from the rat race. We want to make real wine with real people.

“If one of my wines wins an award everyone has a party, it’s not a competition. If any of my equipment breaks down, within the hour other winemakers will be here to assist with their machinery.”

PJ says all the winemakers meet in the Bot River Hotel to “talk about business and life”, and if there’s a disagreement they arrange a sit down there until the problem has been ironed out.

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PJ’s desk is literally at the heart of the winery. The engaging winemaker has seven year’s experience in the French winemaking industry under his belt. His pride and joy? Merlot.

“With Merlot you can’t make a mistake in the cellar, she will never forgive you. Like a woman, you can’t say ‘Hey, let’s go watch rugby in a hotel…’, you rather say: ‘Hey, here’s flowers, let’s go watch rugby in the hotel…’.”

And, like Gabriëlskloof, Barton also produces lavender and olive oil products.

Our time is up in this ward, although there still so much to see. When visiting, take advantage of the incredible accommodation often tucked away in pristine mountain settings with fynbos aplenty. A good idea would be to plan a trip around the annual events: Barrels & Beards in April; Bot River Spring Weekend in September; and the Bot River Barrel Race in October.

Other must-visit wine estates are:

Anysbos [+27 (0)82 601 1067]: “The owners, Johan and Sue Heyns are proud goat’s milk cheese producers,” says Melissa. “They also have vineyards that will start producing wine in the next couple of years and olives.”

It’s a lagoon life at Bengula Cove [+27 (0) 21 944 1041]. Enjoy the ‘views over the lagoon to the Palmiet mountains, which form the spine of the Kogelberg Biosphere’ while enjoying their wines naturally.

Eerstehoop [+27 (0)28 841-4190]: “The last stop on the Van Der Stel Pass,” says Melissa. “It’s a real treat to discover the redcellar!”

Then on to Feiteiras [+27 (0) 82 453 1597]: “The proprietors of the farm Manuel and Jose de Andrade hail from Madeira, Portugal.  And they are one of the very few producers in SA producing a Verdelho White Wine.”

At Goedvertrouw  [+27 (0) 28 284 9769]: “Elreda Pullmann starting making wine herself when her husband passed away and now in her late sixties she continues singlehandedly running her farm B&B and opens her house to lunch and dinner by appointment. It’s the real deal, think homemade butter, lemonade, and so on.”

Head to Maremmana [+27 (0) 28 284 9661], a ‘lifestyle wine estate’, for: “Polo, trout fishing, mountain biking and all the good stuff that comes with country living!”

Visit for more information on all the beautiful region has to offer.

– Malu Lambert