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Bosman Family Vineyards in Wellington
From vine to wine, this 8th generation family winery leads the way in the ethical production of premium fair-trade wines
“I love this valley,” Neil Büchner, brand manager at Bosman Family Vineyards, says as the vineyards of the Bovlei Valley zip by,their leafy tendrils standing in sharp contrast to the mountain that rises above us like a shark’s jagged, purple jaw. “It’s like a window into Wellington, a snapshot you could label the town by, all of the beauty of the countryside condensed.” (A great way to see the area is to do the Wellington Wine Walks).
Neil’s treating us to a true privilege this afternoon. The Bosmans, an eighth-generation farming family, have tilled the land on their Lelienfontein Estate for over 200 years, and, quite unsurprisingly, they like to keep things personal. Wine tasting is strictly by appointment only and guided tours – like the one we’re on – are a rarity.
That’s not to say that visitors are discouraged; rather, the team at Bosman Family Vineyards just likes to do things right. So, those interested in tasting the fruits of the family’s labour are invited to make a booking, and thus enjoy a private and intimate experience – not an ad hoc visit – lead by a knowledgeable staff member in the 250-year-old wine cellar.
Sustainability and social development
We pull to a stop under an oak tree. Neil wants to show us the crèche, a day care centre that’s been built for the children of parents who work on the farm. Social responsibility and sustainability are the cornerstones of the Bosman ethos.
“We’re working hard on positioning ourselves on a global level as the premium ethical wine producer from South Africa,” he explains, walking toward the children’s school. “We truly believe that if you care for the people that do the work, the people care for the work they do for you.”
Not a bad proverb, and as it turns out, the mantra has laid the groundwork for a thriving partnership model. Bosman Family Vineyards employs over 260 people, most of whom live on the farm, and collectively the workers own 30% of the business. “Helen Zille (the Western Cape premier) actually uses this farm as an example of land reform that works,” adds Neil.
But back to the crèche; here, the employees’ children spend their days finger-painting and learning liedjies (songs). We’re treated to the latter just before we leave. The singing is melodic and in unison. My only complaint? They keep calling me tannie (auntie).
Far from the only example of the Bosmans’ commitment to growing an enterprise in ways that respect the land and all the people who have tended it, the kids’ care centre is accompanied by an on-site karate club, music school, youth group, neighbourhood watch, women’s club, home for retired staff, library and sports club.
Not to mention, as the recipient of the esteemed 2012 International Wine Challenge (IWC) Fair Trade award, an accolade given to the fair-trade certified winery with the best fair-trade wine in the world, Bosman’s reds and whites are a shining illustration of the belief that if you invest in sustainability, you get an increase in quality.
“Since the first Bosman came to South Africa, there’s always been this common thread that’s run through and connected the family,” Neil tells us, “their community development.”
Custodians of their roots
Hermanus Bosman arrived in South Africa in 1707 as a sieketrooster (consoler of the sick), but it was his grandson, Petrus Wilhelmus Jacobus (Pieter) Bosman, who became the first relative to farm Lelienfontein in 1798.
“The Bosman story is a love story,” says Neil. He continues to tell us how Pieter bought the neighbouring farm on the advice of ‘Lang Kootjie’ (long bunk) Malan, the owner of the estate at that time. It wasn’t long before Pieter fell in love with and married ‘Lang Kootjie's’ daughter, Sophie, and on her father’s retirement, he bought Lelienfontein.
Some years later, in yet another serendipitous twist of fate, a vine nursery was born, and it wasn’t long before the strong, disease-resistant Bosman vines propelled the farm into its current role as a major supplier to some of South Africa’s most renowned wineries.
“Wellington is the cradle of South African wine,” Neil explains. “More than 85% of the country’s vineyards are planted from vines that are grafted here.”
Today, the on-site nursery’s cultivar catalogue – there are over 47 varietals – puts the vineyard in a position enviable to even South Africa’s most internationally-acclaimed winemakers: Bosman Family Vineyards are the custodians of their wines from their very roots.
Faith, hope and love
It follows then that the Bosmans keep their history as lithe and resilient as the vines that beget their vintages. The tasting room is the farm’s old red wine cellar, evident from the uneven cement walls that are now stained crimson. Adjacent to this is the family farm museum; here, a rusted iron gate bears the family crest adorned with the words ‘Fides spes et amor’, meaning ‘Faith, hope and love’.
We settle down at a long wooden table, eager to finally sip and swirl some of the winery’s award-winning wines. First, we try the Rosé, made from over 33 different varieties sourced from their vine garden on their De Bos farm in the upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in Hermanus. De Bos, Bosman’s recently launched premium fair-trade range of wines, includes a delicious Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir.
Next we try the Bosman friend-maker, the Adama Red 2009, so named for vineyard worker Adam Appollis who was with Bosman Family Vineyards at its inception (descendants of his still farm the land). It’s a blend of Shiraz, Mouvèrdre, Primitivo, Cinsaut and Viognier.
We taste through the rest of the range; my personal favourite is the Optenhorst Chenin Blanc, a wine produced from a small bush vine vineyard planted in 1952.
The last wine we sample is the Dolce Primitivo 2009. This naturally sweet red wine has a bittersweet story of its own. Many years ago, an Italian prisoner of war who worked in the vineyards drowned in one of the farm’s dams. To commemorate him, Bosman has always kept Primitivo (an Italian cultivar) planted around the dam’s edge. They only produce two barrels of this very special dessert wine each year.
“We desiccate the bunches, and because the skin of Primitivo is so thin, it also develops a bit of noble rot,” explains Neil.
A fitting (and decadent) end to a day with a family who’s philosophy and hard work is beyond all else, noble (without the rot, of course).
Tip: Tastings and tours are welcomed by appointment. Sampling the full range costs R50 per person, and this fee is refundable upon purchase of wine.
By Malu Lambert and Stephanie Katz
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