After more than 350 years of winemaking in South Africa, possibly one of the most remarkable wine stories of this country happened last year when the first wine was made from the vines of Robben Island.
Whilst incarcerated on the island, Nelson Mandela used to hide his hand-written copy of the book he was writing – 'Long Walk to Freedom' – by burying it in the gardens where he worked. The area he chose was planted with ancient and decrepit vines, which had been neglected for many years.
Resuscitating the vines
In 2005, the Weltevrede Aansporingstrust, (an empowerment trust of winegrowers who for generations have worked the vines and made wine on Weltevrede Estate outside Bonnievale), visited the island to see what state the vines were in and whether they could be salvaged. It took a lot of negotiating and four years of discussions, but eventually a plan to resuscitate the vines was made.
For three years the members of the Weltevrede Aansporingstrust journeyed to the island and back on a regular basis to prune the vines, repair the trellising, manage the foliage and protect the resulting grapes. Challenges of bad weather and rough seas had to be overcome and two crops were completely devoured by the island birds.
All of this effort paid off in 2012 when they were finally able to harvest 182 kg of healthy grapes. Two wines were subsequently made, a sweet wine named The Parable and a sparkling wine (not yet released) to be named The Manuscript. Only tiny quantities of these wines have been made and they will all be sold exclusively at charity auctions around the world.
The Weltevrede Aansporingstrust came into being as a direct result of the inspirational story of Mandela’s life and his hopes for a new South Africa. It is therefore very fitting that this wine dream is being realised by this group of dedicated wine growers.
As the trust members themselves say 'We commit ourselves as custodians of the historic vines of Robben Island and it will remain an honour to ensure that they never fall back into the neglected state in which they were found. We shall manage these precious vines in years to come, to keep this symbol alive to tell this story of hope to future generations.'