The Bovlei Story… The start of the South African Wine Industry & a true Wellington story.
(information borrowed from various viable sources, but an authentic Wellington story)
The story of Bovlei, is the story of Wellington and one that must start at the beginning. It’s an intricate puzzle built over 300 years that has become the masterpiece it is today. Bovlei Cellar, just like Wellington Wines is a story about real families, pioneers with a deep history and endless tales of tradition, values, aspirations, set-backs, challenges and successes.
The town of Wellington was originally known as the “Limiet Vallei”, as it formed a geographical border or frontier of within the valley, but over time became known as “Val du Charron” or “Wagenmakersvallei”, when translated, means Valley of the Wagon Makers. The town was only officially named Wellington in 1840.
Just like the town, Wellington Wines has evolved and has become a formidable name amounts cellars in and around Wellington. This name transpired after the merge of Bovlei Cellar, which was established in 1907, with Wamakersvallei Kelder and Wellington Wynkelder. Bovlei Cellar, the historical building on Bains Kloof pass, now serves as the official taste room of Wellington Wines and continues to pay tribute to the rich history of the town and its people.
Fill your glass with some of the finest wine from Wellington and enjoy a bit of history.
“We are who we are, because of the stories told through the times”
This is a story that must start at the beginning.
In 1652 Jan van Riebeeck established a refreshment station for passing ships at the Cape of Good Hope, which at the time, belonged to the Dutch East India Company (VOC). It only took two years for the first vines to arrive from France - when the Dutch arrived and later settled in the (then referred to as) Limiet Vallei.
1685 marks the year that Edict of Nantes was revoked by the Catholic King, Louis XIV, prohibiting him the freedom of religion. Huguenot churches were destroyed and followers were forced to convert - or be killed. This resulted in the Protestant refugees fleeing their homeland to more sympathetic countries, including the Netherlands and South Africa.
Three years later, 150 French Huguenots immigrated to the Cape. Bringing with them a wine culture which became the start of the wine making industry in South Africa. They settled across the region. By 1699 a number of Free Burgers from the Netherlands, and a few Huguenot refugees were granted farms along the Kromme River by Simon van der Stel, the then governor of the Cape Colony. This met the growing need for agriculture and also provided a buffer against the Khoi and the San.
It was during these times that the region became known as Val du Charron – or the valley of Wagon-makers. This area, being the “limit of the valley”, was the ideal area for wagon makers and traders, who earned a living from making and repairing ox wagons, while others continued their love for wine by planting vineyards and began small formal industries.
Many of these settlers who pioneered the start of great things in the area, are now, many years later, the forefathers of the Bovlei Cellar. We often remind ourselves and celebrate the role of these great legends, who not only laid down routes in the town, and established our foundations, but who are to this day, still blood relatives of active shareholders within Wellington Wines.
The 18th century was a difficult phase for the wine industry. There was resistance to importing Cape wines from Europe and the Far East export markets, a shortage of oak barrels, and profound uncertainty about the best wine making practice - ranging from which varietals to grow to basic wine-making techniques within the local conditions.
Thanks to Groot Contantia, because at the time, though only a little wine was produced, a taste thereof was conveniently exported to the British royalty. This was to be the start of great things. The beginning of the 19th century signalled the start of the Napoleonic War, which lead to a huge increase and demand for South African wines, as the British could no longer import wines from France. The war lasted more than 10 years, giving time for the wine production of South Africa to increase, and by 1822 – 10% of all wines consumed in Britain were South African! With a steady and valuable demand for wine, cultivars, practices and material was imported from all over the world.
The war ended in 1815, when the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. A few years later, in 1840, the town Wamakersvallei changed its name to Wellington, in an honorary salute the Duke.
A very near-end to the wine industry…
The next few years that followed sadly marked a darker era in the South African wine story. In a turn of events, the end of the war also meant the reopening of trade for French wines. This slowly caused a decrease in demand from abroad and consequently also an overproduction of wine in South Africa. Then, as if cursed, the South African wine industry was dealt another blow. An unexpected and unorthodox outbreak of Phylloxera ensued in 1886, an irreversible and rapidly spreading vineyard disease that caused the uprooting and destruction of millions of vines.
Although this had devastating effects on the wine farms, it did cause the stimulation of other industries to develop. Between 1886 – 1897 Cecil John Rhodes authorised the purchase of 29 wine farms from disillusioned and bankrupt farmers in Groot Drakenstein, Wellington and Tulbagh, where fruit trees were then planted instead.
In the early 1890’s, Piet “Carlifornia’ Cillie formed part of a two-man Government Commission to investigate the problem of Phylloxera and provide proposals to manage this crisis. This led to an ingenious idea. The importation of resistant rootstock- for grafting purposes, is ultimately what saved the local wine-farming industry! During his visits to Carlifornia, he also gained valuable insights on drying fruit and on return pioneered the dried fruit industry – to play a key role in the South African Dried Fried Industry (known today as SAD).
In 1888 the first vines were grafted at Leliefontein, kick-starting Wellington as a well-known and respected area for vine nurseries. Today approximately 80% of South African vines are produced here. Wellington Wines consists of various shareholders, who’s interests are part in wine production, and in many cases also in the production of root vines.
Inland Travel: An end to the Limiet Vallei
During these times of hardship, ways of moving beyond Wellington and especially more inland was explored.
Between 1840 and 1853 Andrew Geddes Bain worked on the Bains Kloof pass, developing a road alongside the premises that would later become the original Bovlei Cellar. He collaborated with various local role players, including Johannes Retief, the son of Daniel Malan and son of Septimus du Toit. Over this time, they established a road along an existing cattle trail which at the time could only be navigated by foot. They had to leave their horses at the base at Bains Kloof village, then known as Wolwehoek, which was later named “Eerste Tol.”
With the completion of the pass, inland movement became possible and Wellington became an important trading stop.
Wellington Wines to this day continues to celebrate the history at the Bovlei Taste Room with exclusive brands such as “Bain’s Way”. The local Coffee shop and picnic area, Bain’s Caffe, and Bain’s Park, now serves as a further memorable tribute to these historical giants.
A further improvement to transportation was achieved in 1863, when the railway line was finally extended and reached Wellington. This came as a huge benefit to the industry as it then enabled the farmers of Wellington to get their produce to the Cape Town Harbour. A few years later, when diamonds were discovered in Kimberley the need for inland transportation expanded even more. It was then that “Oom Pietie Malan” agreed to loan the land to the railways, with a strict policy that every passenger train had to stop at the station on route, regardless.
This of course, made an enormous impact on the economy and notoriety of the village and its inhabitants, as many famous people stepped onto the platform at Wellington - including the queen of England.
Development of the Afrikaans language, religion and education
In 1860 CP Hoogenhout arrived from Holland. It is believed that CP Hoogenhout also resided in Wellington.
This man later became the first chairman of the “Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners” (Association of True Afrikaners). CP Hoogenhout, along with the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaans, then developed Afrikaans into an official language. Many Afrikaans sayings and slogans remain synonymous with Wellington.
For instance, “Stokkies draai” – is a typical Afrikaans expression which means to skip school – and is derived from the time when vines had to be grafted by hand and tied together with strings of raffia. “Die stokkies is aan mekaar gedraai” (the vines had to be tied together). This was done for only a short period of time in the year and since it was a labour-intensive task, all possible resources were used. Missing school when engaging in “stokkies draai” was a common excuse but also became a forgivable offense. Unfortunately, as is with the nature of children, this excused often featured to cover for other mischiefs as well.
“Kinders moenie in die water mors nie” is the name of an old folksong preaching about children that shouldn’t play in or waste water as it was to be kept clean for others to drink it. There is no irony to this song, as it was written in a time of great drought, when minimal water was available and was provided by a farmer who had a small stream. The song also refers to the farmer, Piet Le Roux, who acted as Chair of Bovlei in 1940. The words to the full song can be read at the Bovlei Cellar, where it has been appropriately placed - in the washroom.
1877 dates the founding of The Missionary Institute by Andrew Murry, pioneering the institution of female education.
1880 Abraham Izak Perold was born in the Cape on 20 October and later matriculated in Wellington.
It was this very man, Mr Abraham Perold who, later in life, managed to successfully cross-pollinate Pinot Noir with Hermitage (Cinsault) to develop South Africa’s very own grape variety, Pinotage! A cultivar that Wellington Wines takes great focus on.
Getting back to wine
1906, “Wellington Wynkelder” was established, opposite the original Wellington train station,
1907 The Bovlei Cellar was established, on the opposite side of town, at the base of the Bains Kloof pass.
The Bovlei Cellar has the clearest view of “The Man of Wellington”, an almost uncanny image upon a rocky formation which forms a part of the Hawequa Mountain range. The shadowy figure of an old man displays on the rock formation and is only visible in the late afternoon once the sun casts the necessary shade to produce the silhouette. Hawequa is an old Khoi word, meaning “man in the mountain”.
1918 – The “Ko-operatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereeniging van Zuid-Afrika Beperkt” (KWV) was formed under the leadership of Charles W H Kohler, again saving the industry from disaster.
Co-operations proved vital in assisting wine producers with the production and winemaking process, converting small-scale wine production from private individuals to a new volume-driven approach, the production of bulk wine and often also supplementing the demand for wine from surrounding wine regions.
In the past 100 years+, Bovlei has had only eight chairmen. Although a co-operative cellar, the founding families have remained involved since 1907, and to this day, remain within the composition of the board - and their descendants are now active members of Bovlei.
2013 Bovlei Cellar amalgamated with Wellington Wynkelder and Wamakers Valley, which marked the start of Wellington Wines Pty Ltd.
This historic building was remained the “Bovlei Cellar Building” serving as the official Taste Room of Wellington Wines. A home-style taste room that also offers conference facilities, a large picnic area and harvest cellar. This venue is also available to hire for private functions, special events, weddings and other important occasions.
The lounge-style taste room easily accommodates a group of 40.
The Boardroom facilitates and caters for groups of up to 25.
Larger functions are held in the harvest cellar with a capacity of up to 150.
The outside area, now named Bain’s Park, offers the perfect venue for picnics, picturesque sunsets, wine events and small outdoor weddings and get-togethers.
Various exciting public events are hosted annually by Wellington Wines, and thus we invite you to join us for a wine tasting, wine pairing, our annual Pinotage Dinner and also our popular monthly Moonlight Markets!
Visit “Upcoming Events” for dates.