The story of Bellingham in Franschhoek is one of the most fascinating, in an area that can tell a tale or two. It was originally called Bellenchamp and was bought by a Johannesburg couple, Fredagh and Bernard Podlashuk.
The way Fredagh tells it in her memoirs, they arrived in the Cape during the war years because of Bernard’s health. He had respiratory problems and they needed somewhere where the air was not so dry. Getting off the train in Paarl, they were taken to various farms and fell in love with Bellenchamp at first sight.
One of the things that Fredagh really loved were the black wooden beams in the kitchen which she thought might be teak. They proved to have been blackened by the smoke of the ages as it rose to the ceiling from the coal fires.
The place was really run-down but they loved it and got to work on it. They were assisted by a group of Italian artisans who were billeted with them (wartime, you see) – bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers and the like—very helpful. The all got along like houses on fire – if you will excuse the expression – the Italians sharing their pasta with the Podlashuks and vice versa.
There are many interesting stories in her slim book, but the most interesting is when she decided she wanted a swimming pool at the bottom of the garden, something Bernard balked against. She however was obviously very persuasive and eventually he capitulated.
They took one of the Italians and pegged out the agreed size of the pool. Every night while Bernard slept, Fredagh rose and went outside and moved the pegs slightly, so the eventual pool was quite a surprise to him. The pool is still there as are the ashes of the couple under an arch in the garden.
When I first visited there some years ago, I was treated to lunch in the Manor House. The drawing room was very stylish – like a Mayfair drawing room in the 50s, and there were portraits of the couple on facing walls, with their ashes in caskets underneath the pictures. Today they lie peacefully in the garden.
The Podlashuks made Bellingham into an international destination for many of their famous London friends, who came out in the worst of the English winter to enjoy the South African sun. He was a formidable winemaker and made the wines of Bellingham famous all over Europe, where the couple travelled often.
Today the winemaking at Bellingham is under the expert hands of Niël Groenewald. He is well aware of the tradition he is carrying on and strives all the time to make wines worthy of Bellingham’s heritage. The range today consists of a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay softly wooded, a Shiraz and Pinotage, all really well priced and excellent with food.
Words: Greg Landman