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Let us create new routes: In memory of a "groot gees" on the 50th anniversary of the Stellenbosch Wine RouteS

27 April 2021  -  Isabeau Botha

Isabeau Botha, writes about her grandfather, Niel Joubert, one of the founding fathers of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes, which was initiated 50 years ago by the triad of friends Frans Malan (Simonsig), Spatz Sperling (Delheim Wines) and Niel Joubert (Spier Wine Farm), heralding the birth of wine tourism in South Africa.
I salute them for their visionary creation! (During a trip to Burgundy in 1969, Frans and Niel discovered the famous Routes des Vins at Morey St Denis and saw the possibility of a similar scenario being established in Stellenbosch. Returning home, the two regrouped with Spatz to form the new organisation and so the Stellenbosch Wine Route was officially launched in 1971.)
Frans Malan and Niel Joubert (my oupa) on the trip to Europe in 1969 where they got the idea to start a wine Route in Stellenbosch. Photo: 
WineLand Magazine
My Oupa was not only a “baanbreker” (pioneer) and a visionary thinker, but also a jolly AND a good fellow. Niel (Dirk Daniel – that is why he is Niel and not Neil!) Joubert was born on 6 July 1913 on the family farm Goedgeloof in the Stellenbosch (Vlottenburg) district. He attended the then Vlaeberg Plaasskool and Boys High (today Paul Roos Gimnasium) and received a diploma in agriculture from Stellenbosch University.
Oom Niel became a well-known and much-loved member of the Boland wine industry, together with many other wine friends. He was a Director of KWV for 25 years, a member of the Liquor Council, a founding member of the Klub Here XV11, as well as of the Tastevin du Cap, the oldest wine guild in SA, and chairperson of the first Stellenbosch Land Conservation committee. In 1975, he was awarded the Chevalier de l’ordre du Mérite Agricole (the Order of Agricultural Merit) from the French Minister of Agriculture and in 1983 he was the recipient of the South African Wine Harvest Commemoration's 1659 Award. He married my Ouma Bonté (née Preller, 1913-1987) in 1939. They had three children (Chris, married to Alta; Helena, married to Galley; and Frances, married to Charles). He passed away on 11 August 1992.
Life was always exciting when my Oupa was around. My father Chris remembers that as a director of the KWV, Oupa Niel was adamant about the annual address of representations to increase the price of wine with a penny ... yes, that's one penny (for interest’s sake, in the early days of the wine route, a case of 12 bottles of Pinotage would put you back R6,50 and a case of Riesling only R4,50). My aunt Helena remembers Oupa Niel piloting a food and wine festival in the Stellenbosch town hall, leading to the birth of the Stellenbosch Fynproewersgilde and the ever-famous Stellenbosch Food and Wine Festival.
To me, one of his 12 grandchildren, he was just the best Oupa in the world. He always made time for us. Even if this meant deep-sea fishing at 4am. He also taught us to dream, think AND do. I knew him for 16 beautiful years. Yes, he often did things a bit out of the very square Afrikaner box. Oupa Niel was not only a legendary “groot gees”, he really personified the word “gees” (a hearty spirit) – he was kind, jovial, exuberant, and enthusiastic about life, good food, great wine, and even greater company. He was bold in inspiring others to try out new ventures at a time when selling wine under your own label was a foreign concept.
“The wine route opened up the farm to Jan Publiek,” my father Chris says. “You did not visit a sheep farm or a grain farm, but you did visit a wine farm to taste wine … which created an opportunity for a restaurant on the werf … and then for a harvest festival, an art gallery, a market and more. The farm experience still holds tremendous future potential for agritourism".
To create a route is to believe that all kinds of people CAN collaborate. To create a route is to create an appreciation for connectedness. In today's times, 11 great-grandchildren later, Oupa Niel and his friends' legacy should make us all think about how to create new routes – not only physically – but as a celebration of life and of the freedom of association we are now allowed – or should claim!
In the spirit of "samesyn"
- Isabeau (Joubert) Botha