Wine Legend Danie De Wet –De Wetshof Robertson
After you drive through Robertson and take the road out of town going towards Ashton, the circle indicates a right turn to Bonnievale. This is certainly one of the most picturesque places in the Cape Winelands, with flowers galore and thoroughbred horses grazing peacefully in their pampered environments. Also, along here you will come to the famous De Wetshof vineyard, internationally known for its fabulous wines and also for its iconic Manor House, a replica of one in Cape Town designed by Louis Michel Thibault.
The owner of this magic place is Danie de Wet, a legend in his own time, an innovator, someone who made things happen and paved the way for many who came after. He is an imposing man, not someone you would ignore in a crowd, genial and approachable, gracious in the old-world manner and a pleasure to talk to.
He was born here and grew up in this area and feels it is part of his soul – which it obviously is. His many noteworthy accomplishments include introducing the Breed River Valley’s first dry white wines. His Chardonnay received the Grand Prix at Vinexpo in Bordeaux in 1985, he was the British Wine Writers Association International Winemaker of the Year in 1995, and was Chairman of KWV from 2004 to 2009.
Today he is still very active at De Wetshof, supported by his two sons, Johann and Peter, and his charming wife Lesca. With his name known across the wine circles of the world, he is someone who has left his mark on our wine industry.
Can you describe the best glass of wine you have had the pleasure of drinking?
La Mission Haut-Brion1966. I had this in 1981 at a tasting of all Bordeaux First Growths and some other all nine wines 1966, scored it 21 out of 20. Perfect in all aspects, faultless on palate, nose colour and showed greatness amongst great wines. And 35 years after drinking it, I remember the wine as clearly as if it were yesterday.
And the worst?
Like poor conversations or flippant remarks, I don’t remember “worst wines”. Bad things in life are just not worth remembering – especially if it is a topic so close to my soul and in a world where there are far more good, intelligent and exciting wines than bad wines.
Is there something that makes SA wine special?
The physical wine environment and our regions are the most beautiful in the world. In the small region of the Western Cape we have tremendous variety in soils, climate and ambience to create great wines. This diversity in styles is complemented by the wines’ specific surroundings and the people who are a part of them, in whatever way.
Over the years South Africa has built up a wine culture through generations which are expressed in the various regions’ products, making them unique.
What do you find attracts you to people—as friends?
Common interests help, as I enjoy conversation. I like people who challenge my ideas and accept me challenging them, as well as people who grab my attention. I am attracted to energetic people, people who are “wakker” as we say in Afrikaans. The younger generation in the industry makes me excited about our future.
What do you like most about yourself?
Having achieved what I set out to do since I was a boy on De Wetshof.
Big feet – shoe-shopping is a challenge. I can only buy what fits and not what I like.
Do you sleep well?
Like a log – a log from a forest of French oak.
When in your life have you been happiest—till now?
On my farm, walking through the vineyards with the prospects of a good vintage.
What can you just not do without in your life?
The subject of wine. I set myself the rule never to serve on any board or committee if it doesn’t have anything to do with wine. It’s still a rule for me today.
When do you think it is right to tell a teensie weeny lie?
When my sons look at the empty dish where there once was a mosbol and asked me if I ate the last piece.
When have you been most bored?
When I am not in my own surroundings, namely my farm, and I have no one or nothing to interest me.
What is your greatest regret?
I could have done more to push people in certain directions and make them take more of a leadership role.
What is your motto?
If you want to grab initiative you must capture imagination.
If you could choose to come back as something else, what or who would it be?
Words: Greg Landman