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Q&A with Peter Bayly

Q&A with Peter Bayly

Very well known in Cape Town for many years at the world famous Ellerman House, Peter Bayly and his wife Yvonne long had a dream to escape to the hinterland and make wine.

When I met them some years ago I said to him “Peter, I can understand the urge to flee the city, but this is carrying things too far.” (I get nervous when there is no cell phone reception.) He and Yvonne beamed at me beatifically—obviously delighted to be where they were—and are.

I also asked him what made him think Calitzdorp needed another fabulous Port and how he had made it. “Everyone helped me—that is how people are here.”  The answer did not surprise me, because I have discovered that is how wine makers are—they are all in it for the long haul and are impassioned by what they do—or they would not be doing it.

Today Peter and Yvonne make superb Ports, including a heavenly fortified white wine, and have now added an unfortified blend which they call Peter Bayly lll, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barocca and Souzao, three of the varietals traditionally used in Port making, and which flourish in this area , so like the Douro Valley in Portugal. To learn more of what makes him tick, read on…

Where and when were you born?

I was born in 1943 in South Africa. I moved to Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) when I was four, and lived there until my return to South Africa in the early 60’s.

Large family? How many siblings? Any in the wine / brandy business?

Family of 3 children. I have a brother and sister, none of whom are in the wine business.

Did your family always have wine on the table?

No, not really, Rhodesia wasn’t really wine orientated in the 40s (or 50’s, 60’s and 70’s). Wine interest started later in life when I was in the restaurant business, and more specifically when we started Ellerman House (a boutique hotel in Bantry Bay) where we established one of the best private Wine Cellars with an exceptional selection of South African wines.

What is your wife’s name? Where did you meet? What does she do?

Yvonne and I met when she ate in my restaurant Farthings in the early 80’s. She’s my right-hand, helps me with the wine making and every other aspect of the business (she’s the back label).

Kids? Where do you live?

We live on the farm in the Groenfontein Valley just outside Calitzdorp. My daughter Caroline and her husband are in Perth, Australia, and my son Mark, his wife and children live in Cape Town.

Do you entertain at home or do you prefer restaurants or both?

We entertain a lot at home. We love having friends over for a meal.

Do you cook, or does your wife or both? What kind of cooking?

Yvonne and I both cook and we love ALL food. In the 70’s I had a Steak House (Walter’s Grill) in Sea Point where I learnt a lot about meat, from the selecting of good quality meat, how to mature meat and the best way to cook it. I am a huge proponent of dry aged meat – absolutely against vacuum-packed meat in any form. Walter’s Grill was regarded as one of the top Steak Houses and had a reputation worldwide. I started Farthings, a fine-dining restaurant, in Kenilworth in the early 80’s, also very highly regarded, one of the first house restaurants in Cape Town – food is a very big part of our lives.

What are your hobbies? Where do you holiday?

Wine and food are my hobbies. We love to holiday in the bush. Fortunately in our time at Ellerman House we were afforded plenty of opportunities to visit game farms like Singita, Londolozi etc. We also love to spend time on the West Coast at Paternoster.

What attracted you to make wine/ brandy?

We helped the late Anthony Mossop at Axe Hill with a couple of vintages. We decided that we would like to have a similar operation in the area. On a drive through the valley in Groenfontein, we were fortunate to find this wonderful gem in the and decided to plant a hectare of vines for ourselves. At the time it was just a holiday house with the vines as a hobby, but this has now become our life. After our first harvest in 2004 we realised that if we wanted to do it properly, we needed to be here on a more permanent basis.

Do you think it is an art or a science?

It’s both – there is so much to wine-making from the vineyard, production, bottling, labelling and packaging that there is both art and science to everything that you do.

Who were the influences on your brandy/wine-making?

There are many, from the late Anthony Mossop who had a superb personal cellar and vast wine knowledge, and with whom we first experienced a harvest, to the wine-makers I met over the years collecting the wines for the Ellerman House Cellar, and all the wine-makers in our area who have been so generous with their time and knowledge.

Where did you study?

We learnt as we went. When we had grapes on our vines ready to be picked in 2004 we learnt very quickly. Friends in nearby wineries are always happy to help with info, etc – nobody wants a lousy wine in their neighbourhood, so they’re all really helpful.

What was your first job?

Insurance, in Rhodesia

And the next and so on?

On two occasions I went overseas to study to be a Chiropractor, and didn’t follow through. I ended up farming tobacco in Rhodesia. Then I was offered a job as an insurance assessor, nd did that until I came to Cape Town in the early 60’s. I worked for insurance brokers for a bit, then purchased Walter’s Grill in Sea Point in the early 70’s, etc.

Where do you think wine-making is going in SA?

We are being exposed to a far greater selection of varieties and blends – exciting times ahead.

How much attention do you personally pay to the vineyards?

A lot. For the first few years, until the vineyard was properly established, I did all the pruning, etc. Now that everything’s in place, Percy (my other right hand) helps with the pruning and vineyard maintence. The vineyard is in our front garden – I am in and out all the time.

Do you think it is essential to spend some time overseas? Where?

Yes, it’s absolutely essential to see and experience what other countries look for in wine and what they’re producing.

What is your wine philosophy?

Make good wine, enjoy good wine – try to make something different and to make the best wine I possibly can.

What would you like to do that you havent done? In wine? In your life?

I would love to make an MCC and a white wine that is very different. I have been very fortunate to have had a good and full life and have done some very interesting things.

How are we going to attract more people to make wine part of their daily life in SA?

Keep wine interesting! Plant new varietals and make interesting blends.

Words: Greg Landman

Picture: Supplied


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