Sneak Peek: Bonnievale’s new trend-setter wine experience

A new visitor experience will open in mid-November near Bonnievale in the Robertson wine region. Weltevrede, arguably South Africa’s oldest family-owned wine brand, has substantially revamped and expanded its destination showcase.

The winery, which has seen the Jonker family making wines under the Weltevrede label since 1912, has been well-known for the way it transformed its wine tanks into a rustic, candle-lit tasting room. In fact, when patriarch Lourens Jonker first opened a tasting room on the farm in the 1970s, he was the first in the region to do so. 

Now, the winery under Lourens’s son and renowned winemaker Philip has taken a new step by turning the visitor centre into a world-class experience. A large, landscaped rose-and-fynbos garden greets arriving visitors before leading into a newly constructed hall with chic furnishings. The hall is the departure point for two tours each focused on highlighting Weltevrede’s recently unveiled and now exclusive focus: Chardonnay still wines and bottle fermented, or Cap Classique, wines.

The way the history of the farm was so well illustrated by the former tank experience has been retained and incorporated into the expansion, with both tours taking visitors to separate exhibits in the complex of alcoves shaped in the concrete tanks. Now, there are panels that provide context to Weltevrede’s place in a global wine world. In snapshot form, they cover subjects including the history of Chardonnay; the geology of the region; and, the story of the family.  

The candles are still a feature in some of the spaces where, for example, a tasting of Weltevrede’s Poet’s Prayer Chardonnay takes place. But, subtle spotlighting has been added and a soundtrack. On the Chardonnay tour, choral music flows through tunnels, giving the space a distinct old-world cathedral air; in the Cap Classique spaces, it’s ragtime jazz and posters of celebrities extolling the virtues of bubbly. An add-on to this tour allows visitors to bottle their own Cap Classique, and to try their hand at sabrage – the practice of opening a bottle with a cavalry sword.

Themes in the centre design re-occur. For example, the simple arch-cum-egg shaped entrance to the visitor centre that symbolises new birth and innovation echoes in the many arches one passes through from tank to tank. History is reflected in both the inanimate, such as an old metallic Weltevrede sign that Philip says must have come from a farm gate at some point; and, plants of the garden.

The latter incorporates about 14 ancient vines originally planted on the farm in 1926. When the new visitor centre was constructed, the vines were transplanted from where they grew nearby to what are essentially pedestals of local shale. The rose garden recalls the contribution of WW2 Italian POWs in making wine here, but also in developing a rose garden.

The opening of the new visitor centre however is only the first phase of additions. A tasting room dedicated to its Cape Wine Crafters range will open shortly, along with a new restaurant space that overlooks the vineyards and will cater for picnics; and, a lounge for a non-alcoholic beer being developed by the farm.

According to Weltevrede marketing manager Steyn Fullard, the centre dovetails with several exciting regional projects. These include the new Cap Classique route that links local producers and the establishment of a trademarked regional wine brand that highlights the scale and benefit of the valley’s limestone soils.

For more information, visit www.weltevrede.com or call 023 616 2141.

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