Weltevrede Wine Estate had the honour of making a very
significant wine for the 94th birthday of Mr Nelson Mandela. Seven
years ago the dream was born when seven ancient vines were discovered in the
prison garden on Robben Island.
These vines grow where Mr
Mandela buried his handwritten manuscript of Long Walk to Freedom in the prison garden.
Aansporingstrust, an empowerment trust of winegrowers who for generations have
worked the vines and made wine on Weltevrede Estate outside Bonnievale, volunteered
to be the custodians of the Robben Island vines. It was no easy task involving
many early morning trips to the island, hard labour, coping with difficult
weather, rough seas and ravenous birds that devoured two vintages. After three
years of restoring the vineyard vintage 2012 eventually yielded a crop. The
historic wine is made and the first bottle is presented as a gift to Mr Mandela
for his 94th Birthday.
After more than
350 years of winemaking in South Africa, possibly one of the most remarkable
wine stories of this country has not been told yet: A wine is made to tell the
story of Robben Island and history is told again like a parable, an allegory;
about the discovery of forgotten vines, their struggle and perseverance, a tale
of relentless hope, patience, and the resulting fruit, the first wine made from
the vines of Robben Island.
The Weltevrede Aansporingstrust
About 200 kilometers
east of Cape Town, close to the village of Bonnievale, generations of families on
Weltevrede Wine Estate have worked together amongst vines since 1912. In 1998
Weltevrede Wine Estate took the lead in the Robertson Valley
to initiate an empowerment project, the Weltevrede Aansporingstrust which
resulted in the employees of Weltevrede owning a vineyard of Pinot Noir and
sharing the profits thereof. This empowerment of a different generation in a
different place is a direct result of the inspirational lives of big hearted
people like Mr. Nelson Mandela and others who spent years on Robben island in
order to create such opportunities.
The Account of the Discovery
viewpoint of the members of the Weltevrede Aansporingstrust):
During 2005 we
visited Robben Island. In the Courtyard of Section B we
were told of how Mr. Nelson Mandela buried the manuscript of Long Walk to
Freedom in the prison garden. “Where those
vines are, right there, he buried it,” the prison guide said. We walked over
to the corner where the vines were. “Do they ever bear fruit?” we asked. “The grapes
never ripen, because no one looks after them,” was the reply. The vines looked
sick and neglected. They were old, historic and precious, but forgotten.
the sea back to Cape Town
and during the two hour drive back to the vineyards of Weltevrede we discussed,
“What a pity to see those historic vines like that. Imagine if we could look
after them, to prune and care for them and to nurse them back to health. Who
knows, maybe they will recover and then wine could even be made from them. The
first wine from Robben Island. What an honour
that would be.”
For years the
idea remained a dormant dream until Professor Jakes Gerwel, chairperson of the
Nelson Mandela Foundation and his wife, Mrs. Phoebe Gerwel, visited Weltevrede
during 2008. The dream of the Robben Island vines was shared
with them and they then spoke to Mr. Ahmed Kathrada. A subsequent reconnaissance
trip to the island led to the discovery of seven old vines.
Robben Island is a
geological outcrop of rock covered with limestone and broken shell fragments.
Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on all sides and ten kilometers from the
coastline, this island is a barren landscape, scoured by the ocean winds of the
Cape of Storms.
2009, 2010, 2011 - Long Walk to Recovery
For three years
the members of the Weltevrede Aansporingstrust journeyed to the island and back
on a regular basis to prune the vines, repair the trellising, manage the
foliage and protect the resulting grapes. Challenges of bad weather and rough
seas had to be overcome and two crops were completely devoured by the island
birds. But the history of the place and the metaphor of the vines kept
inspiring us to hold on to this dream.
The vintage of 2012 and the gift to Mr Mandela
At last, in the
significant year of 2012 we harvested the first crop of Robben Island.
182kg of grapes were carried on board of the ferry to be shipped to mainland
and then taken to the winery of Weltevrede. Immediately the grapes were counted,
documented, analysed and cooled down where after the winemaking process
Two wines were
made at Weltevrede: a sweet dessert wine, called The Parable, and a Méthode Cap Classique Brut in magnums, called The Manuscript.
vines of Robben Island may only yield a few bottles of
wine these may well serve to tell the world the story of our country’s healing
through hardships and sacrifice of great figures. The first bottle of The Parable is presented by the
Weltevrede Aansporingstrust to Mr Nelson Mandela for his 94th
birthday. The Manuscript is still in
the making and will be sold on international charity auctions.