The story of Waverley Hills, the award-winning estate producer of quality wines farmed sustainably, begins long before it ever bottled its first vintage. This is a tale of innovation, heritage and respect for the land that now places its wines among the country’s best.
Situated in the winegrowing region of Tulbagh, Waverley Hills established its first vines in 2000. Just a few years later, it was singled out for both exemplary farming practices and exceptional wine. It was the first organic wine producer to achieve the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative’s Champion status while a string of awards include its flagship Shiraz, Mourvedre and Viognier (SMV) being the only red blend to win Platinum at Michelangelo International Wine & Spirit Awards in 2014, also winning the Organic Trophy; and, a year later its Shiraz being named SA Champion at the SA Young Wine Awards.
As it is, many milestones mark the path to these achievements. A significant one came in 1968 with the establishment of a visionary enterprise near the hamlet of Wolseley. Long before recycling became the norm, the Du Toit family became involved in what is today a leading recycler of winery waste – grape skins, seeds and lees. In the mid-1990s, the family spotted an opportunity in farming and acquired land on the nearby south-facing slopes of the Witzenberg Mountains.
They had made their living with an eco-friendly approach for decades – the new journey would be no different and Waverley Hills Organic Wine Estate was born.
The farm’s heritage is tied to the history of the valley itself. The stone building that houses the recycling factory today dates back to the 1800s and was once home to the famous Waverley wool and blanket company. Its name is a derivation of “Waveren”, the former title bestowed on the area by the 17th century Cape Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel in honour of a relative.
Today, Waverley Hills is a thriving destination for lovers of wine and nature. “It’s incredible to see how life has returned to the soils. Natural equilibrium has brought back animals and birds, big and small, and a self-sustaining way to keep pests in check,” says Kobus du Toit, who owns the farm with brother Wynand and their mother, Myra.
Most of the 139ha property is occupied by mountain fynbos with 30ha under vineyard and some 10ha used for the cultivation of olives. The modern winery, surrounded by a landscaped fynbos garden, incorporates the wine tasting room, restaurant and wedding chapel.
Waverley Hills winemaking
Winemaker Johan Delport joined Waverley Hills soon after the completion of the cellar in 2006. He was born in Worcester and began a career in wine after graduating at Elsenburg Agricultural College, working at amongst others KWV, Botha Cellar and what is known today as Piekenierskloof Wines. His first encounter with organic wine farming came during consultation for the Swartland winery Org de Rac, but it was at Waverley Hills he says where his real education began.
All activities are subject to strict requirements by independent auditor EcoCert for the certification of the wine as organic. In addition to soils and water, even the spirit used to fortify its Jerepigo is tested for undesirable chemicals.
Techniques utilised on the farm include covering rows between vineyards with shade-cloth to prevent weed germination; and, blowing vuvuzelas (trumpets) to keep baboons from raiding the vineyards.
Some 80% of the vineyards comprise red varieties with Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot taking the lion’s share. There’s also Grenache, Mourvedre and a young Pinotage vineyard. The white grapes farmed are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Viognier.
The wine – to which 50% less sulphur is added, than to conventional wines – is made in a 200-ton cellar that employs natural gravitation for the gentlest ushering of grapes to wine. It produces a Cabernet Sauvignon without the addition of any sulphur, which is certified as a “No Added Sulphite” wine. “Reducing our reliance on mechanical pumps makes our wines softer and less tannic, because fewer grape seeds are crushed in the process,” Delport says.
The Waverley Hills portfolio comprises the Estate and Reserve ranges. The former has traditionally included the property’s Red Jerepigo, Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz blend; No Added Sulphite Cabernet Sauvignon; Shiraz; and, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend.
The Reserve range, in turn, has developed an enthusiastic following among wine-lovers and connoisseurs. A string of awards combined with greater investment in the vineyard and cellar is driving a consistency of excellence. In addition to the popular Grenache and SMV (Shiraz Mourverdre and Viognier) blend, the range includes the Waverley Hills Reserve Shiraz, Méthode Cap Classique and, VSC (Viognier, Semillon/Chardonnay) blend. It will also see a wooded Chardonnay added towards the end of this year.
Waverley Hills events
Attached to the winery is Waverley Hills’ restaurant, which is open six days a week for breakfast and lunch, and twice for dinners on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Its wrap-around balcony affords striking views of the valley, while the twin fireplaces make it a cosy retreat when the weather turns cold. Here too, the recycling vision is played out in furniture made from old wine barrels and reclaimed wood.
Chef Francois du Toit has turned the venue into a popular destination where the menu changes constantly according to ingredients available in season. The restaurant caters for weddings in the adjoining chapel as well as groups making use of its conference room. Picnics can be arranged, for which blankets, pillows and umbrellas are provided. Visitors arriving on the vintage steam train operated by the Ceres Railway Company are welcome too.
Waverley Hills is situated 90 minutes from Cape Town, off the R46 near Wolseley, between Tulbagh and Ceres.
For more information about Waverley Hills or to order wines delivered to your door, visit www.waverleyhills.co.za. Visit the Waverley Hills Facebook page and Twitter page @WaverleyHills. Contact the farm on 023 231 0002.