Val du Charron Wine and Olive Estate, situated high on a hill overlooking the breathtaking Bovlei Valley, outside the town of Wellington in the Western Cape, is truly the grand dame of wine estates in the area. She commands attention in terms of the expansive views she affords of the historic valley, the vision and generosity of her entrepreneurial owners Stuart and Catherine Entwhistle, and the extensive nature of the Estate itself.
Val du Charron Wine and Olive Estate, situated high on a hill overlooking the breathtaking Bovlei Valley, outside the town of Wellington in the Western Cape, is truly the grand dame of wine estates in the area. She commands attention in terms of the expansive views of the valley, the vision and generosity of her entrepreneurial owners Stuart and Catherine Entwhistle, and the extensive nature of the Estate itself.
All of these work together in synchronous harmony with the landscape and the history of the valley. The Estate’s Theatre of Wine recently won the most innovative tasting award in the world. In the small classically decorated conference room appropriately corsetted local actress Francelle Venter regales guests with stories of the valley and the unique characters that contributed to its history. Each story has been imaginatively bottled in a range of blended wines – and so we have the Val du Charron Four White Legs, which pays homage to the legend of the toll master at the summit of the historic Bainskloof Pass, Piet Erasmus, a tribute to the original owner of the Estate, and the Black Countess, whose heroine was the Countess of Stamford or Martha Solomon, daughter of a freed slave from Wellington, and who established a school on a mission station across the river from the Estate.
The history of the Estate never escapes you despite all the modern takes that have been added – The Local Grill, the five-star Coach House, The Spa and the recently opened Pizza eVino in the original cellar. The Estate is clearly treasured by the Entwhistles, who are only the fifth family to hold title, since the original farm was proclaimed in 1699. The views of the valley are not much altered. The road to the Bainskloof Pass runs right outside the Estate entrance and you can see Martha Solomon’s school across the valley from the patio of the Local Grill.
Even the name of the Estate – Val (French for valley) is a tribute to the French Huguenots who contributed so greatly to winemaking in the Cape and Charron (which means wagonmakers). Wellington had a strong wagon making/repairing tradition, as it was the last town at which travellers could get supplies and repairs to their wagons before making the journey to the hinterland.
The Estate’s largesse is expressed in so many ways. Ryan and I were assigned the Estate’s wine maker Rosco Lewis for an entire day. He took us on a tour of the vineyards, the cellar and then to the tasting room, where we celebrated his joy of wine making together. There we got to enjoy first hand the Estate’s history in a bottle with Ryan having a preference for the Four White Legs and me the Black Countess. This, not least because the pinotage blend in the Black Countess is so easy on the palette, but because I was intrigued by the story of the Black Countess herself and at her legacy which lives on so tangibly visible across the river from the Estate.
We also got to experience the Theatre of Wine, where local actress Francelle Venter appropriately dressed in black as the Countess regaled her audience with the stories behind the three wines.
The Four White Legs is a ghost story that captures the pioneering spirit of the first explorers of South Africa’s hinterland. The Bainskloof pass that borders VDC was opened in 1853 as a toll road, which transformed access to the hinterland beyond the mountains. Legend has it if you had a horse with four white legs you could pass toll-free. Many people tried to abuse this loophole by whitewashing their horses’ legs. The toll keeper would curse these cheats and the sound of their horse’s hooves can still be heard in the pass.
Rosco, Ryan and I took the pass up to the Bainskloof Village, a tiny hamlet, emptied of its inhabitants during the week, the overgrowth, speaking of the efforts of early gardeners, who had neat orchards, clipped framing creepers and neat avenues of Jacarandas and Oak trees in mind. This ostensibly was the place where the country’s first road toll was effected. Citizen rebellion in the form of the four white legs was manifest even then – a carry over to our present day resistance of the etoll!
The second wine in the series – Pieter Erasmus – takes its name from the first owner of the farm. Erasmus acquired ownership in 1699, and produced the first wine in 1702, but only acquired the title deed in 1714 – the delay apparently caused by some bureaucratic displeasure. Pieter Erasmus is a Bordeaux blend which harkens to the area’s French heritage. However, the addition of a local Pinotage cultivar, makes the wine truly South African. We are at our heart, a nation of multiple nationalities and lineages.
The Black Countess, as Val du Charron’s website describes it, pays homage to the first person of colour in the British realm. Born in Wellington, Martha Solomon was the daughter of a freed slave, who subsequently met and married Harry Grey, an Anglican priest, with a bit of a questionable reputation. By quirk of fate, he inherited the title as first Earl of Stamford, and all its trappings. By her marriage to the Earl, Martha became Countess of Stamford. She used her inheritance, to build schools for underprivileged children – the most prominent of which was Battswood School (which subsequently became Battswood Teachers College) in Wynberg, Cape Town. Scorned by the aristocracy and local British settler community, Martha returned to Bovlei Valley where she used the money from the estate to build farm schools for children regardless of gender or colour. The school today is situated across the valley from the estate.
Val du Charron’s expansiveness goes on and on. Initially booked into the more than adequate four-star rooms off the restaurant and en route to the conference centre, we were transferred to the five-star luxury of the Coach House for our second night. Each room boasts its own spa bath, double shower, patio and private pool, with all the fittings and bedding appropriate to luxury accommodation.
We left Val du Charron with our heart tanks full – full of gratitude firstly at the warmth, kindness and hospitality afforded us – gratitude for the way our history has been preserved and transformed, and grateful to be part of this amazing country and to be affiliated to pioneers of the likes of Piet Erasmus and the Entwhistles, who are so determined to make a positive mark on this beautiful Valley and its people.
How to get there
Thompson Holidays have block bookings and flights with most of the leading wine estates at competitive pricing. Val du Charron is within the ‘magic’ hour’s drive from Cape Town. Directions to the estate: From Cape Town take the N1 north. Take the off-ramp to Stellenbosch Wellington, Klapmuts (R47). At the stop street turn left. Follow the R44 to Wellington. Pass the Redstar farmstall, Nelson’s Creek and four way stop at the Florida farm stall. The R44 intersects with the R301 at a set of robots. Turn left on to the R301 into the town of Wellington. At the next set of robots there is a beautiful church with a statue of Andrew Murray in front of it. Turn right here in to Church Street. Go through the commercial section of Wellington and proceed through the residential area until you reach Bovlei Cellar. There you will see the first brown tourism sign to Val du Charron. Almost immediately after the Bovlei Cellar turn left into Hill Road (Redemption leather shop will be on your left and another brown sign) and then immediately right in to Bovlei Road. This ends at a stop street at a T junction. Turn right as indicated on the brown tourism sign and proceed 200m. Turn left at the sign to Val du Charron and from this point on follow our signage to reception.
To book for Val du Charron go to http://www.thompsons.co.za/deals/val-du-charron-guesthouse-and-spa.