Greg Sherwood MW: A new dawn for Rudger van Wyk at Doolhof

By , 8 May 2024



Doolhof, Wellington.

Another year passes and another end-of-season rugby tour with my youngest son ends after a fabulous May bank holiday weekend in an unusually sunny and warm Swansea, Wales, at the Dunvant RFC Junior Rugby Festival 2024. It was almost precisely this time last year, when my son was still playing in the London Welsh RFC U12s, that I took along a very willing Rudger van Wyk, then still at Stellenbosch property Stark-Condé, to Chobham, Surrey, on a chilly Sunday morning to watch my son’s team play in a league match. I can’t quite remember the result to be honest, but I do remember that Rudger looked right back in his element again as we toasted the boys post-match with a couple of thirst-quenching pints of amber ale in the Chobham RFC club house.

Apart from being an accomplished winemaker, Rudger will be the first to admit that his original talent and passion lay on the rugby pitches of George, playing locally for Southwest Districts before being potentially selected for the Natal Sharks Academy team. But like many before him, Rudger was persuaded to finish his studies first before pursuing any further rugby ambitions and this is ultimately what lead him to Stellenbosch University and his pathway into studying winemaking. Rudger confesses that the student drinking and socialising in Stellenbosch was a lot more fun than rugby training, and so, his ambitions for Springbok rugby greatness were slowly replaced by a desire to make fine wines.

After an illustrious stretch of time as head winemaker at Stark-Condé, which involved the dynamic joint venture Kara Tara, in partnership with Jose Condé, Rudger decided it was time to spread his wings and fly off to new pastures. Following a succinct appointment process with Doolhof in Wellington, which saw him interview in mid-December 2023 and start the job officially on 8 January 2024, Rudger was certainly not letting any grass grow under his winemaking boots.

Rudger van Wyk of Doolhof.

In his new role as head winemaker at Doolhof, Rudger was presented with the wonderful opportunity to further advance this exciting brand while simultaneously being given free rein to continue pursuing the establishment of his own new brand, New Dawn, in partnership with US importer Baobab Wines, who are also the US importer of Tinashe Nyamudoka’s Kumusha Wines, selling almost a million bottles a year. Baobab Wines owner Giles Thomas had instantly realised the pull of black-owned wine brands from South Africa and wasted no time commencing talks with Rudger to go into a partnership.

While visiting the Cape in March this year, I managed to navigate the hectic Cape Epic traffic and the orange dust roads of Wellington and find my way up to the beautiful Doolhof, fortuitously or not, exactly on the day that Doolhof was being used as a race stop and watering hole for the riders on the mountain bike stage race. So with the estate buzzing with far too many ‘mamils’ (middle aged men in lycra), I met up with Rudger in the tasting room and beat a swift retreat to the quiet coolness of the barrel cellar, where we proceeded to taste through a selection of Rudger’s New Dawn wines in barrel consisting of an old-vine Chenin Blanc from grapes sourced from Danie Steytler at Kaapzicht and a Syrah from grapes sourced from Elizma Visser in the Breedekloof, alongside several deliciously new embryonic Doolhof reds and whites.

As the only farm in the Wellington wine ward of Limietberg, Doolhof represents a opportunity for Rudger to hand craft some unique wines from the 32 hectares of vines already planted on the predominantly Oakleaf and decomposed granite iron-rich clay soils of the larger 400-hectare property. With replanting work already underway for an additional seven hectares of vines with further expansions in the pipeline, you can see the attraction that led Rudger to accept the head winemaking position here so swiftly.

So what of Rudger’s embryonic new wines in barrel? Well, the old vine Chenin Blanc was simply mind blowing, combining richness, purity and texture with a clarity, freshness and crystallinity that really was awesome. I also tasted two spellbinding barrels of light-touch Pinotage that may well feature in the range at some point, before moving on to Rudger’s beautifully fragrant Syrah, made with a delicate touch of confidence and precision. There was of course a reason those Stark-Condé Syrah’s became some of the estate’s perennial best sellers! We finished off with an intriguing Bordeaux cultivar field blend red that was also exceptional but was a wine I believe is destined for the wider Doolhof Estate range. Certainly plenty to be excited about for avid followers of Rudger van Wyk.

As we bid farewell to Rudger after lunch, wishing him all the very best with his new ventures, I couldn’t help feeling how strange it was that so many years ago, probably in the early to mid-noughties, I was approached in the UK by the previous English owner, to sell some ‘exciting new premium wines from Wellington’. I had never heard of Doolhof and certainly had my reservations as the only high-quality premium wines that I knew of coming out of the Wellington region at the time came from the wide expanses of Schalk Burger Senior’s beautiful Welbedacht Estate, also unbeknownst to us at the time, the secret source of the Boekenhoutskloof Syrah grapes post 1997 vintage. But I certainly did enjoy the Doolhof wines on further examination, in particular their delicious Reserve Malbec as well as their Reserve Pinotage. The potential was certainly all there. Almost two decades later, I finally paid my first visit to the winery. Better late than never, I suppose.

  • Greg Sherwood was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and as the son of a career diplomat, spent his first 21 years traveling the globe with his parents. With a Business Management and Marketing degree from Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Sherwood began his working career as a commodity trader. In 2000, he decided to make more of a long-held interest in wine taking a position at Handford Wines in South Kensington, London, working his way up to the position of Senior Wine Buyer. Earlier this year, he moved across to South African specialist merchant Museum Wines to become the Fine Wine Director. He qualified as a Master of Wine in 2007.


4 comment(s)

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    Lisa Harlow | 9 May 2024

    Will be very interesting to see what Rudger does at Doolhof. It must be 16 years since I visited Doolhof, all I remember is that it was over 40 degs and the Pinotage tasted of burnt coffee!

    Greg de Bruyn | 8 May 2024

    If you regard the Cape Epic riders as Middle Aged Men in Lycra, you’re either a cycling megastar or you know nothing about cycling. Glad to hear that Doolhof have got their act together, though.

      Greg Sherwood | 9 May 2024

      Obviously lots of tongue in cheek Greg, but of course full salut to all the MAMILS! They rolled in looking like they had won a war! Chapeau!! I can only dream of being that fit and determined!!

        PK | 9 May 2024

        Nice article Greg. So good to see such a sleeping Giant, IMHO, have some new energy and such a wonderful talent come on board. I can only see good things on the horizon for this partnership…

        The other thing I see is men in lycra coming for you, Greg 🙂 and I can already hear the click clack click clack click clack of the cycling shoes. Haha

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