The accidental magic of Môrelig Vineyards and Wightman & Sons

Situated at the foot Paardeberg Mountain in the Swartland region of the Western Cape, South Africa, Môrelig Vineyards is the domain of father-and-son duo Andrew and Brandon Wightman – a pair of avid farmers and artisanal winemakers that happened upon their calling by accident. 

It all started in 2011, when Andrew and his wife Elise purchased the farm because they were beguiled by a gorgeous trellis of wisteria that draped over the main building in lush, purple abandon. At the time Andrew, who is a building contractor by profession, was still under the impression that he would be using the land to raise cattle. Little did he know that fate was about to deal him a brand-new hand of cards…

Môrelig Vineyards in the Swartland’s Paardeberg, home to Wrightman and Sons Wines.
Father-and-son due Andrew and Brandon Wrightman.
Môrelig Vineyards at the foot of the Paardeberg in the Swartland was purchased by the Wightman family in 2011.

“It may sound a little strange, but we ultimately chose Môrelig because of the wisteria,” says Andrew. “I liked the place the first time I saw it. Most people think it’s the view that sold us, but funnily enough we never actually saw that. That only really happened once we had moved in here. We used to live on a small holding on the other side of the mountain and I’d spent a lot of time looking for a larger place so I could raise cattle.” 

“We’d ridden past the farm a few times on our horses; nobody really even knows that this little valley exists – there are so many nooks and crannies out here, and you’ll find something you’ve never seen before every time you go exploring. We’d gone looking everywhere, even at the farm where Adi Badenhorst farms now, all the way to the Berg River and the next valley, and in the end it was the wisteria that got us.” 

Once they were moved in, Andrew started making plans to remove the 24 hectares of vines that came with the farm, to make space to rear cattle. It was at this point that he was politely informed by his neighbours that he would not, in fact, be doing so. One of these neighbours was Craig Hawkins from Testalonga, who would be instrumental in setting the scene for the Wightman family to discover their calling.  

“Once I made peace with the fact that the vines would be staying, we had no option but to start farming them. This is when Craig said to me, he thinks I should start making wine. And I said, well, no it seems quite difficult to make wine, and he said no, it’s really not. So we started by making one barrel of red, and we were very proud of that barrel. But then it went vrot in the bottle. It was really quite terrible,” chuckles Andrew. “We never intended to market the wine at all, we just drank it and gave it to friends and family. So, we just kind of carried on making wine. And once we got the hang of it, we realised,wait a minute, this wine is actually quite reasonable, why don’t we start selling it?” 

Andrew’s son, Brandon, had just gone to high school at Paarl Boys High when his parents bought the farm, and was so inspired by the winemaking process that he decided to pursue it as a field of study when he finished matric. 

“When I just started high school, I had grown up on a farm around horses and animals all my life. So since I could remember I wanted to become a vet,” says Brandon. “Going into high school, I was still inclined in this direction up until around Grade 10. But then I realised that to go this route your academics has to be of a very high standard, and I was never really the academic type. So when we made our first barrel, I thought to myself, this is pretty cool!” 

“At the time I was also meeting the winemakers in the area – Eben, Craig, Jurgen, and Adi. It was the people and the whole process behind the winemaking that got me interested. We went for our first tasting at a braai down the road and there were all these interns from all over the world; you get to meet all these new people all the time. It was so interesting to hear their stories and learn about their backgrounds. That’s ultimately what piqued my interest. So in my last year of high school, I was like, cool – that’s what I’m going to do.”

Harvest on Môrelig earlier this year.

Wightman & Sons just released their fourth vintage, and take pride in growing their grapes sustainably while crafting their wines with minimal intervention.

“Our philosophy is to keep it simple. The journey of our wine starts in the vineyards by farming with minimal impact on the environment which enhances the character of our wines. We are members of the Swartland Independent Producers, a group of like-minded winemakers sharing similar ideology,” explains Andrew. 

“We farm organically, which means we don’t use any poisons to control insects or weeds. We are hopeful that the good bugs eat the bad bugs. We only use fungicides that are within the boundaries of sustainable farming practices. Everything is done by hand, we weed control with spades for example. The most sophisticated piece of equipment on this farm is the tractor and a spray machine which is used minimally, reducing the compaction of the soil with the intention of creating a healthy vine. One day when I retire, I’d like to plough with a horse.”

Brandon, who is now in his final year of studies at Elsenburg, believes that it all comes down to going back to the basics. 

“We give the land what it needs and farm according to what the land can provide,” explains Brandon. “There are various farming methods, some more commercial than others. In general, a plant will survive on its own. That’s how they’re made, that’s how nature intends it to survive. At Môrelig, we’re not pushing for maximum yield, we’re going for quality, so we want the vines to produce what they can give us. And we take what we can get.”

A 54-year-old block of Chenin interplanted with some Riesling that remains on the farm, alongside one gigantic bush vine that has managed to grow to rather epic proportions. 

This includes the exceptional grapes yielded by a 54-year-old block of Chenin interplanted with some Riesling that remains on the farm, alongside one gigantic bush vine that has managed to grow to rather epic proportions. 

“The vineyard was originally planted by Oom Mostert’s father. One of the workers who planted this block, Oom Jacob, still lives on the farm to this day,” says Andrew. “This particular vineyard was field-grafted, which means they plant the root stock and when it’s ready they cut it down to just above ground level and graft a Chenin stokkie onto it. But that block is not just pure Chenin, it’s a mixture of Chenin and Riesling vines. I can’t tell the difference, but Harry, one of the farm workers who has worked in vineyards all his life, maintains that he can. He says the leaves of the Riesling are darker than that of the Chenin. But I can’t see it.”

Aside from the Chenin from the old block, which is bottled as a single-vineyard vintage, Môrelig Vineyards also produces Chenin,  Shiraz, Grenache, Cinsault, Pinotage, as well as a red and white blend. “All the varieties that are in our range comes from the farm, except for the Grenache and the Cinsault. Those are the two varieties we buy in,” says Andrew. 

Wightman & Sons The Hedge. 70% Syrah, 15% Carignan and 15% bought-in Cinsault.

Brandon looks forward to growing their range when he returns to the farm after his studies, and would like to experiment with interesting cultivars from around the globe. 

“I’d like to expand. The varieties we have on the farm are quite common. There are French varieties like Macabeo that I would like to experiment with. We actually planted some on the farm, but it didn’t do too well; I want to replant it and do it properly. I worked with Macabeo in the south of France and for me that was one of the coolest grapes to work with. It’s a very expressive varietal that reacts very well to skin contact style of wine,” says Brandon. 

“I’d also like to plant our own Cinsault and Grenache, and make a field blend – basically plant a bunch of different varieties in one block and make a blend out of it. I think that would be super interesting to do. I’m finishing studying this year, and   next year I’ll be travelling. I’m sure I’ll encounter a few new varieties along the way with which I’d like to experiment.”

Brandon and Andrew Wrightman at the Riebeek Rendezvous Wine Festival last summer.

If you’d like to get your hands on a few Môrelig vintages, you can get in touch via their website to place an order. Alternatively, you can head out to the Swartland to taste the wines on the farm (by appointment only), or at the conveniently situated Wine Kollective in Riebeek Kasteel (open Tuesdays, 10 – 14:30; Wednesday – Saturday 10:00 – 15:00; and Sunday 10:00 – 15:00).

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