Monday, April 29, 2013

From Candlelit Cellar to Cosy Writers’ Studio

Hopefully you’ve been following my blogs on the Jonker wine estate, Weltevrede, meaning ‘well satisfied’. If you haven’t read them yet, go to:

The first intriguing thing my husband, son and I did on this hundred year old wine estate was wine-tasting by candlelight in an underground cellar. This was a first for me. Steyn Fullard, Marketing Manager of Weltevrede, was our host on this unusual experience. 

Wine tasting by candlelight in an underground cistern

Steyn led us to what looked like a warehouse where large wooden doors led us inside to the cement cisterns beneath the earth. It was dark, damp, and musty. And it was quiet. Candles lit our way as we walked through low-roofed, cemented corridors, moving from one cistern to the next. It felt like we were inside catacombs, as if we had stepped back in time.  



We were fascinated as Steyn explained the process of Methode Cap Classique aging (or making champagne for those who live in France). Bottles of sparkling wine were stacked inside the walls. Steyn pointed out a missing bottle. Philip, Weltevrede’s owner, likes to take one out randomly, just for fun, he told us. 

Steyn educating us on the making of sparkling wine

Spot the missing bottle

We walked deeper into the underground cellar, stopping at the last cement cistern. In the center of this candlelit room, no bigger than sixteen square meters (170 ft2), stood a large oak barrel. Beside wax covered bottles that served as candlestick holders, stood four glasses and two wines for our tasting—one a sparkling wine; the other a sweet dessert wine made from their oldest vineyard. It was the first time a winery host had joined us in a tasting, making this experience just that much more intimate and special. As we examined the golden liquid, smelled its bouquet and tasted its flavour, we were surprised to learn that tinier bubbles were indicative of a better Cap Classique sparkling wine.

Steyn shared some history about the room we were standing in, the first cement cistern to be cast decades before. He pointed out the square trapdoor in the low roof—large enough for a person to climb through—from where wine was pumped into and out of the tank. Every year the cisterns had been rubbed with beeswax which was then melted with a flame to fill any cracks. This prevented the wine from coming into contact with raw cement.

For two generations the underground tanks had been forgotten. Four layers of floor had covered the original openings before Philip Jonker and his father discovered them several years ago. We only saw a small portion of more than eight hundred square meters (8600 ft2) of underground cellar. I’d love to return for the full Indiana Jones experience.

Every conversation with Steyn has been fascinating, and as we chat in the candlelight, sipping the sweet dessert wine, we learn even more. He tells us vineyards last up to around twenty-five years, but the original vines planted by Philip’s great-grandfather in 1926—fourteen years after acquiring Weltevrede, and the first vineyards in the area—are still producing wine after more than eighty years. Isn’t it incredible to think that five generations of this wine-making family have tasted from the same vines we enjoyed? This particular vineyard had been declared a Conservation Worthy Property by the Board for National Monuments—the only vineyard in South Africa to receive this accolade. Philip’s great-grandfather and grandmother’s pictures form part of the labels’ design on Oupa se Wyn and Ouma se Wyn (Grandpa’s Wine and Grandma’s Wine).

After the cellar tour, we followed Steyn by car to the Jonker home where we met Philip, his wife, Lindelize, and their daughter, Marianna. They took us through their house to the other side where we climbed a flight of stairs that ran up the outside of an adjoining double-story building.

The building is ordinary, but the history and what’s inside, make it extraordinary.  Set in a lush garden between trees as old as the three thousand books inside, it had been built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II. The books in the Writers’ Studio, some of which are Africana, came into Philip and Lindelize’s possession when Philip’s grandmother died some years ago, and are freely available for writers’ research. It is amongst these aged pages, and the freedom of the farm roads between three hundred hectares of vineyards outside, where writers are invited and encouraged to find inspiration.

Chatting with Philip and Lindelize inside the Writers’ Studio

A little further away from the Jonker’s home, overlooking vineyards, lies Ons Huisie (Our Little House – see Weltevrede website for photo), Weltevrede’s Writer’s Cottage. This tiny thatched cottage is a place where writers can finish a manuscript in the tranquility of the surrounds. I will have to return some time as I didn’t get an opportunity to see this cute cottage for two. Maybe when polishing my novel set in the Cape winelands? I can edit, and hubby can go fishing in the Breede River.

Vineyards, cellar, writers’ studio, writer’s cottage—Weltevrede oozes a combined love for books and wine. Each generation of Jonkers have added to the uniqueness of this wine estate. Klaas Jonker, who purchased the farm in 1912, planted the first vineyards; Japie Jonker began wine farming in 1933;  Lourens Jonker, a visionary and leader with over fifty years’ experience took risks that have transformed the face of the South African wine industry; and now Philip Jonker, Weltevrede’s fourth generation award-winning winemaker . . . an extraordinary man of God whom I'm honored to know.

Hanging on a wall at Weltevrede, four generations of family portraits:
Klaas, Japie, Lourens, and Philip Jonker

Imagine, as writers, being able to pass on our knowledge, love and passion for words to future generations, as the Jonkers have done with their wines. I could think of nothing better.

Marion Ueckermann’s passion for writing was sparked in 2001 when she moved to Ireland with her husband and two sons. Since then she has published devotional articles in Winners (2009) and The One Year Book of Joy and Laughter (published August 2011 by Tyndale House Publishers). She blogs for International Christian FictionWriters and belongs to Christian Writers of South Africa and American Christian Fiction Writers. She now lives in Pretoria East, South Africa in an empty nest with her husband and their crazy black Scottie, Wally.


  1. What a wonderful experience.

    Hmmm my husband likes fishing, so perhaps I can talk him into a stay at the Writer's Cottage.

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed your experience of the wonderful wines, and the history all around, and how privileged you were to have the unique experience of wine tasting with the host. Many memories to write about. That cottage seems like just the place to get those writing juices going.

  3. Wow! What a breathtaking place to visit. A fantastic place as the setting for a novel too. I hope you do get to return.

  4. Just spotted this was written in 2013. How come I missed it? And how come it showed up now? Loved the post.