22 June 2017

The story of how Bellingham came to be (Part I)

‘’Fools rush in where angels fear to tread – we came down to the Cape from Johannesburg in August 1943 after my husband Bernard had been boarded out of the Air Force, and that as far as I am concerned, was the beginning of a meaningful life.’’ (Our Lives at Bellingham, by Fredagh Podlashuk)

The story of how Bellingham came to be is a tale of courage, determination and unwavering dedication to the land. It is an odyssey richly coloured by the labours of vintners, past and present.

A long, long time ago

The farm was originally known as Bellenchamp (‘pretty fields’) and has a rich history that dates back all the way to 1693, when Gerrit Janz van Vuuren, a Dutchman, and his French Huguenot wife planted the estate’s first vines. From then it was passed from one family to the next, until 1943, when Bernard and Fredagh Podlashuk swooped in, bought the somewhat shabby farm and poured their energy into restoring the gardens, vineyards and manor house to its former glory. And so began the modern renaissance of the Bellingham Estate in Franschhoek.

The modern renaissance of Bellingham

Bellingham as we know it today is foremost the result of hard work and determination on the part of Bernard and Fredagh. This innovative couple bought the farm during the war years after Bernard was invalided out of the Air Force. Pod, as he was known to friends and acquaintances, was an Englishman who (according to Fredagh’s entertaining memoirs) ‘knew only of the gaiety life of London, the excitements of the Paris night clubs and the slopes of the Swiss mountains’, but would ultimately prove himself to be a true trailblazer and pioneer of the South African wine industry.

A labour of love

The couple purchased Bellingham after being shown various other farms in the Paarl region and falling in love with the property at first sight. Although it was terribly run-down, they had the foresight to realise that it could be transformed into something remarkable. Clearheaded about their somewhat limited skillset, they realised that they needed the help of individuals with farming experience and promptly enlisted the assistance of 13 Italian POWs who helped them to replant the vineyards.

Going above & beyond

Next, Bernard and Fredagh travelled to France and Germany to learn more about viticulture and winemaking from prominent European winemakers. They returned resplendent with experience and initiative, and set about making Bellingham into an international destination for many of their famous London friends, who came to enjoy the South African sun and left in awe of the country’s bourgeoning wine industry. In this way, Bellingham wines became known throughout Europe and Pod started on his journey to becoming one of South Africa’s most fearless vintners.

Read more about the history of Bellingham in The story of how Bellingham came to be (Part II).

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