SA Wine Legends: Duimpie Bayly

“I was the smallest guy in the hostel in boarding school,” says Duimpie Bayly. “That’s where I got my nickname: Duimpie means ‘small thumb’.” And he’s never been called anything else since. I ask him what it says on his many awards or what was used in his professional capacity. The answer is of course, Duimpie Bayly. He says there may be a ‘Francis’, his birth name, on some documents somewhere. 

So, I’ll use it here too. Duimpie began his long, groundbreaking career in the laboratory at the then Stellenbosch Farmers Winery in 1962 and went on to become Group Operations Director of Distell (the same company), retiring in 1995. 

Duimpie was one of South Africa’s first Masters of Wine, and he has dedicated over 40 years of his life to the wine industry. He still serves on the Board of Distell, has judged on many local and international wine competitions and has likewise chaired numerous industry committees and societies.

He’s also a family man, and a small-scale cattle rancher in Stellenbosch’s Vlottenburg, where he’s lived in since the 70s. We’re down the road from his farm on a bright, Boland morning. The sun streams through the windows of Dalla Cia's Pane E Vino, lighting up his blue eyes as we delve into his story. 

A son of the soil, his dad was a sheep farmer in the Karoo. When the family moved to the Free State, he was shipped off to “St. Andrews School for Young Gentleman,” as Duimpie calls it with a rueful smile. This was where he got his famous moniker.  This was also where he discovered and nurtured a passion for science—and, well, wine.

“We had to go to chapel every day and twice on Sunday,” He says with a smile. “My first taste of wine was when some friends and I stole the communion wine.

With the taste of that sweet muscadel lingering, Duimpie completed his studies at St. Andrews and went on to Stellenbosch University. “My dad always wanted me to go to Stellenbosch. He wanted me to become a rugby player,” Duimpie chuckles.  

His father passed away when he was just 12-years-old. He honoured his wish. 
“I wanted to have a career in science, so it was a pure BSc for me.” 

All the foundations for his future career were laid in this time—though it wasn’t from behind his microscope, not entirely. Rather it happened at the bar counter of the old Grand Hotel in the centre of Stellenbosch. Duimpie and his classmates often gathered here for drinks, and so did many of the wine industry’s leaders, who got to know the young students over glasses of Cape red. 

Among them was his future mentor, Ronnie Melck (MD of SFW as well as of Muratie Wine Estate fame) and Bill Winshaw (founder of SFW).  His time at the bar paid off, after his third year he got the job he was after and was quickly ensconced in the lab at SFW with the primary job of doing wine analysis. 

“Winemakers would come into the lab to taste their wines and I’d have the analysis prepared for them. While they tasted I would make notes of what they were saying and once they had left, I would then taste their wines and see if I could match it up to their comments.

“Ronnie Melck was my inspiration in many ways. One day I said to him that I’d like to learn more about wine chemistry, and he lent his invaluable support. Most people at that time were studying further in Germany, but I knew I wanted to go to UC Davis in California.”

“I learnt a lot from the professors, as students we spent a lot of time socially with them. There was one professor whom I drove all around all over the Bay area while he was doing tastings, and I tasted the best wines in the world, from Tokaji to Bordeaux.”

At some point during this time, he moved off campus into an apartment with some friends, where they set up an off-the-books business of selling wine to fellow students.

“That’s where I met my wife, Sue. She came to buy wine. Next year we’ll be married 50 years.”

After graduation, he decided to head back to South Africa, with an MSc in Viticulture and Enology—and an American bride. “I did say to her if you don’t like it in South Africa, it’s a long swim back…” 

Luckily, it seems she liked it a lot. The pair went on to have three children, and now, six grandchildren.

Somewhere in between all this he achieved a PMD at Harvard too. “I taught those guys to drink wine, I brought the University of Wine to the University of Business.”

When asked about his multitude of achievements, he humbly says: “I didn’t do it by myself, I was part of a team.” 

“Ronnie Melck taught me to assist in the industry wherever you can. His philosophy was that if it goes well with the industry it will go well with us.”

Though he’s served on many influential committees, the Demarcation Committee stands out for him. “Because of it I’ve seen almost every piece of land that grows wine grapes in the Western Cape.”

Added to that all the international wine travelling, which has seen him travel to all corners of the wine world. “But without a doubt the most scenic wine region in the world is the Boland.” 

He thinks the future looks bright for South Africa’s wine industry. “We just need to work together more. We can achieve so much more that way.

“There’s a quote that’s always stuck in my head: 
‘The two oceans of the world may divide us, but the wines of the world unite us.’”

Duimpie Bayly is a board member of the Distell Group, past president of the Cape of Good Hope Agricultural Society (Agri-Expo), Chairman of the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative, Chairman of the South African National Wine Show Association, Chairman of the Technical Committee and Demarcation Committee of the Wine & Spirit Board, patron of the Charity Wines Trust and Elsenburg Old Students Association and Honorary Life President of SA Society of Enology & Viticulture.

He has also received the following awards: SASEV. Merit Award in 1986; SASEV. Honorary Life President 1994; K.W.V. Wine Man of the Year 1999 and Guild Member SA Brandy Foundation 2005. Besides being a Management Committee member of the Pinotage Association, he also serves on the Executive Committee of the Association. *Source:

-Malu Lambert