MEMBERS of Meikles Grapevine, a wine appreciation society based at the Harare hotel, had a glimpse into the future last weekend at a wine tasting at Bushman Rock Vineyard, Ruwa, where the old established winery is undergoing major renovations, refurbishment, improvements and extensions.
The family-owned wine farm is in the process of producing what seemed to members very promising red wines, to be ready by March 2009; a new functions centre is being finished above the winery, with spectacular views over a stunning dam to the rolling Mashonaland East countryside.
An Australian wine ace supervises re-plantings, graftings and production technicalities and not one, but two, polo grounds are being built.
Paul Chambers, a top Australian wine growing expert, married to a Zimbabwean and living here, is consulting to the vineyard once or twice weekly..
Despite it sounding like something out of Monty Python, he assures me he studied Wine Science at Charles Sturt University, Wagga-Wagga, New South Wales and in 1986 began his own Staughton Vale Vineyard on the slopes of Mt Anakie (pronounced “anarchy”!), 80 km west of Melbourne.
From 1986 to 1989 he was consultant winemaker at Mt Anakie Winery. Then in 1989 produced the first wines from his own StaughtonVale Vineyard fruit.
Between 2001 and 2005 he was guest lecturer in Wine Science at Deakin University, Geelong, and at Staughton Vale incorporated the vineyard, winery, restaurant and accommodation under one umbrella company.
From 2005 to 2007 he was President of the Winemakersâ€™ Federation of Australia and in 2007 married Zimbabwean, Belinda, and moved here. Since June this year he has been consultant winemaker at Bushman Rock Estate.
He said: “We spent considerable time retraining parts of the vineyard to bring it up to speed. The 2008 wines have been transferred to oak. Weâ€™re busy equipping the new winery for Vintage 2009. In winter 2009 weâ€™ll topgraft existing table grapes over to Chardonnay and plant a new Viognier vineyard .
“Due to the Zimbabwean climate and early picking because of the rains, we will not produce typical New World wines. They will never be clones of SA wine styles, but rather Zimbabwean wines with more than a passing nod to the wines of France.”
Over a splendid picnic lunch, after tasting a white and several reds, relaxing on the huge sprawling top floor of the winery, owner Sally Passaportis said:
“We bought Bushman Rock from John Bianchini in 1996, moving in 1997. I had a little knowledge as my folks grew Steen grapes on Glenalla Park our farm in Esigodini, supplying Afdis Bulawayo back in the 70s; the rest I learned from books, much help from Mukuyu and â€˜just doing it!â€™
“We began to replace old varieties and various table grapes with â€˜noblesâ€™ to eventually improve the quality of our wines. This had to be done slowly, field by field over years, so we could keep making wine to sell, to pay wages.
“We imported vines grafted on rootstock from RSA and have almost finished, with a field of Viognier to plant next season and a field of white table grapes to chip-graft with Chardonnay; that should end the plantings.
“With new varieties beginning to reach meaningful production, we were lucky enough to get the services of Paul Chambers as consultant winemaker. With Paul in charge weâ€™ve jumped several levels, bringing in French and American oak barrels in which the 2008 vintage of Pinotage, Bordeaux Blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, a Shiraz as well as a couple of barrels of Alicante Boushcet are now ageing and developing. Theyâ€™ll be bottled in March.”
Sally is married to businessman Rick Passaportis; they are just the fourth family to own the farm since it was pegged in 1900. She continued: “The next stage of our 10-year plan was to rebuild the winery, virtually unchanged for 40 years and very basic.
“Renovation of the old winery turned it into a two-storey functions venue, the bottom bit for production and bottling wines and a catering kitchen. The upstairs was floored in teak. We managed to get it almost finished at the request of our daughter in UK who wanted to come home and marry here in December.
“Since then it has become increasingly hard to find (and pay for!) building materials, so operations slowed down; we limp along trying to get finishing touches such as plumbing, painting and wiring but are almost there.
“The functions venue was the idea of our son, Jonathan, who, after getting his business degree at Exeter, worked as a gaucho (cowboy) on a polo safari estancia in Cordoba, Argentina.
“He returned in 2006 keen on running a similar set-up and we began work on a full-sized polo field as well as an â€˜arenaâ€™ field (the only one in Zimbabwe and one of only a few in Africa) along with the winery.
“This will operate in conjunction with a company heâ€™s formed: Bushman Rock Safaris, now in the process of building lodges to house function guests and hopefully overseas travellers when riding and polo safaris are up and running.
“We have stables for 20 horses which will be used for the polo safaris as well as Jonathanâ€™s potential competitive polo string. We feel the lodge set-up should be ready for full operation in December 2008. While the firm goes through registration with ZTA, etc private showings can be arranged. Once registration is completed the Estate hopes to offer a wonderful venue for weddings and functions..
“Bushman Rock Estate and Bushman Rock Safaris have devoted most of their land to a game conservation park in which we run a herd of highly endangered Lichtenstein hartebeest as well as sable, wildebeest, zebra, impala, eland, tsessebe and giraffe. In conjunction with the Tickey Haywood Trust we are a breeding and a release site for endangered servals and African wild cats.”
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By Dusty Miller