Captain Giovanni's mural

Thursday, 29 April, 2004
Graham Howe
Wederom opens historic Italian POW cellar
In a delightful tale reminiscent of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, the descendants of Italian prisoners-of-war will attend the launch of the Cape's newest boutique wine cellar on 1 May. The families of POW's who worked on farms throughout the Cape during World War 2 are returning to celebrate the unveiling of a rather special mural painted by a former compatriot - and the launch of Wederom's first release Shiraz 2002.

Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction. When Phillip and Almien du Toit, owners of the 19th-century grape and fruit farm in the Goree Valley, decided to restore their 1933 wine cellar, they came across two intriguing murals painted by one of the Italian POW's. Jan Corewijn, a renowned Belgian artist who has undertaken restoration work at the Castle of Good Hope and Robben Island (touching up a Father Xmas sketch drawn on the prison walls by Nelson Mandela) brought the faded panels back to life this Easter.

Every sketch hints at fragments of an unfolding story. Giovanni, one of thirteen Italian POW's interned on the farm from 1942-1945, painted colorful scenes of daily life in the camp - the farmhouse, bunk beds, the tents, the POW's, guards, the barbed-wire fences - as well as scenes from Walt Disney's animated Bambi movie (1928) from memory. Artist Giovanni (carrying a butcher's knife) and Great Grandpa Jacobus du Toit are featured larger than life in the mural. In those days, Goree was du Toit terroir - with four Phillip's in the family, namely Flipdoekies, Flipvoete (size 14 feet), Witflip and Swartflip.

The murals decorate an annex to the cellar built by the POW's in 1943. Family records show that Giovanni, a loner and the only northerner, slept alone in the chapelesque room - and painted the murals on the walls to while away the long hours at night. A romantic setting for the new tasting centre where visitors can sample Wederom's maiden Shiraz 2002 made by 4th-generation wine farmer Phillip du Toit at Cloverfield with consultant Newald Marais. The old cement kuipe ‘Wederom’ (‘see you again - or Arrivederci as it says on the label) were restored with Italianate arch mouldings.

To be released on 1 May 2004, Wederom Cellar Reserve Shiraz 2002 was matured in French oak for 12 months - with the 2003 vintage still in the barrel. Wederom also plans to release a Cellar Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2003 and a Merlot/Shiraz blend in the future. Phillip du Toit comments, ‘Our Shiraz used to win Rooiberg Winery Veritas double gold. Bottles of Rooiberg's Shiraz 1989: Wine of Origin: Goree stand proudly on the shelf. We decided to bottle it ourselves under our own Wederom label. We want to share our history, our roots, something special in the bottle’ - and Obelisk the delightful bulldog.

With the zeal of a private investigator, Almien du Toit is piecing together the past, talking to old-timers. After she did a presentation to the Italian Embassy, they sent out 4 000 letters to many families whose parents settled in South Africa after the war. She hopes to make contact with any 80-85 year old survivors who worked at Wederom. (Four hundred Italians visit the Worcester cemetery on the first Sunday of November every year to pay their respects to the POW's who died in the area during the war.)

Giovanni's mural is the newest tourist attraction on a farm known for its ‘boere gasvryheid’ (farmer hospitality) at the Hanepoot Huisies, a complex of converted farm cottages. The Goree (derived from ‘gorras’, a Khoi name meaning near the river), a fertile valley of vineyards and orchards, is one of those secret places off the map that delights tourists with a sense of adventure and discovery. A former bulk supplier to Rooiberg Winery, Wederom still supplies 250 tons of grapes to the big brands from the Shiraz, Merlot, Cinsaut, Chenin Blanc planted on the farm - while holding back the best.

* The Robertson Wine Valley celebrates its first-ever open weekend with a wide range of fun activities from 4-6 June.
Tel: +27 (0) 21 626-3167

Wederom Cellar
Contact: Almien du Toit
Tel: +27 (0) 23 626-3306

Graham Howe

Graham Howe is a well-known gourmet travel writer based in Cape Town. One of South Africa's most experienced lifestyle journalists, he has contributed hundreds of food, wine and travel features to South African and British publications over the last 25 years.

He is wine and food contributor for Eat Out and WINE.CO.ZA, which is possibly the longest continuous wine column in the world, having published over 400 articles on this extensive South African Wine Portal.

When not exploring the Cape winelands, this adventurous globetrotter reports on exotic destinations around the world as a travel correspondent for the Intrepid Explorer and - and for the weekly travel show on SAFM radio.

Over the last decade, he has visited over fifty countries on travel assignments from the Aran Islands and the Arctic to Borneo and Tristan da Cunha - and entertained readers with his adventures through the winelands of the world from the Mosel to the Yarra ."