SA Wine Legend: Jayne Beaumont
By Malu Lambert | 28th August 2019
Like lashings of creamy, churned butter the yellow canola fields wash over the hillsides of Bot River aka Butter River. The official story of how the region got its name though dates all the way back to 1672, when the San people traded their butter with merchants along the river.
Butter has long since stopped being the area’s calling card, these days it’s the wine that’s attracting visitors. With around 14 estates falling under the place of origin, this scenic slice of the Overberg has held onto its pastoral roots, and the estates have that genuine farm-feeling that too often gets steamrolled over with contemporary design in the larger wine regions.
I pull up at Beaumont Wines; the characteristic Bot Rivier breeze whips lightly through the air. Matriarch of the estate, Jayne Beaumont greets me. She founded the farm in 1974 with her late husband, Raoul.
“My life has been a series of moments of madness,” says the petite Jayne, her light blonde hair is bobbed to her shoulders. We’re seated by the fireplace in the tasting room. On the way in I noticed a few of Jayne’s famous sheep paintings.
“I’ve always been drawn to the arts and the sciences,” she says, while telling me about her childhood. She grew up on a rural farm in Constantia. “It wasn’t like it is now,” she says laughing. “Back then Klein Constantia had chickens!”
After school various paths presented themselves, from pursuing her BA to studying art at Michaelis, and to doing a teaching course.
She met Raoul Beaumont on his 32nd birthday (he was 11 years older than her). “Raoul was a larger than life character, a rebel at heart,” she says fondly. She had bumped into him at a pub where he was celebrating with friends. “I remembered reading about his engagement to an acquaintance of mine in the papers, so I congratulated him.
“Four weeks later he was on the phone asking me out, I said but ‘aren’t you engaged?’ He told me it was all finished, but I still wasn’t interested. Somehow though he worked his way into my life, and five years later we got married.
“It was the most bizarre proposal, I got a phone-a-gram, and the operator could neither pronounce his name (Raoul) or where he was sending it from (Ibiza). This was then followed by the message of ‘will you marry me’. I wondered what friend of mine was pulling a joke on me, and said as much.”
Getting married wasn’t at the top of Jayne’s list. “Get married, what for? I didn’t like to label myself, we were free spirits—but Raoul was older than me and wanted to get things settled, in spite of his eccentric nature. We had huge respect for each other. So we did, at a very small ceremony at my parent’s home. I think I wore a kaftan!”
It was time for Raoul—who was well known for his love of sailing, travel and motorbikes—to embark on his next adventure, farming.
Though there were already too many family members on his parent’s apple and pear farm in Elgin, they needed a space of their own. A friend told them: “there’s a farm in Bot River, that place with a funny name you always pass on the way to Hermanus.”
They bought it. “That was in ’73, and it was completely derelict, it was just a dust bowl,” says Jayne shaking her head at the memory. “Then it was called Compagnes Drift Farm, it was an old outpost of the Dutch East India Company, given over to mixed farming.
“The local panel beater was living in the main house at the time,” smiles Jayne.
Of course now, most of the old buildings on the farm have been restored—two of which are cottages available to book—complete with a 200-year-old watermill, which is in use today grinding flour.
In fact the original Chenin Blanc vineyard for the famed Hope Marguerite used to be planted next to the mill.
Raoul threw himself into farming, with both fruit orchards as well as grape growing for the co-ops. Along the way three children were added to the mix, in the form of Sebastian, Ariane and Lucien, who were all born and raised on the farm.
Jayne continues: “In ’77 I started making my own wine, but play-play stuff, some years it was drinkable, some years it wasn’t! I taught myself from a book, and bought and old basket press.
Friend and winemaker, the late Arthur Pillmann (of Goedvertrouw Wine Estate) nudged her to buy some barrels for the pinotage on the farm. So she did. “In an old cobwebby space, that then passed for the cellar, I made the wine and matured it in barrels. I called it ‘Arturo Sebastiano’, our first labelled wine, after Arthur and Sebastian.
“In ’94 I made another three barrels—and these I registered with KWV. John Platter [of the eponymous guide] heard about it and asked if I could send him some samples… I didn’t even have bottles to put the wine in. I had to go and buy receptacles from the local café.
“I felt terribly embarrassed, but somehow the wine was highly rated in a Wine Magazine pinotage tasting. This gave us the confidence to get the cellar up-and-running properly.
The journey began very simply with antique basket presses and old open cement kuipe (fermenters).
Running the cellar soon became a mammoth task, so Jayne started looking for a winemaker. After placing an ad in the paper, she got a phone call. “This deep voice was on the other end, Niels Verburg! The last time I had seen Neils he was 9-years-old, we were friends with his parents. He told me he was back from the UK and looking for a job.”
When he came for the interview Jayne recalls asking him if he could fit into the cement tank’s small opening (a must to keep things sterile). All six-feet of him climbed in, demonstrating right then and there, that yes he could. The job was his.
“We ran the cellar together, we did the wine shows together—we worked well together.” He was with them until 2004, when he bought the neighbouring property to make his own wines; now know as Luddite Wines.
The title of winemaker smoothly flowed into hands of the eldest child, Sebastian, who had returned to the farm in 1999 after graduating in oenology and viticulture at Elsenburg.
“Sebastian grew up with a bunch of grapes in his mouth,” says his mom, a smile lighting up her face. “He was always on the farm in his gumboots and overalls. It feels like the most natural thing for him to have stepped into the role.
Sebastian’s first vintage was in 2004—perilously close to his wedding according to Jayne, “he practically got married with purple hands!”
In the early 2000s, patriarch Raoul fell ill, and ultimately passed away. This left Jayne thinking about a property she and her husband had purchased ‘up on the hill’ where they had planned to retire and make Pinot Noir.
In honour of this shared dream Jayne decided in 2008 that: “I’m going to make some Pinot.” And that’s just what she did, stockpiling the resulting vintages, until finally in January 2019 she launched ‘Jayne’s Pinor Noir’.
Back out on the open road, as I watch the butter-coloured fields rush by me, the yellow of the blooms starts to signify something else. Hope. The name of the Beaumont’s cult Chenin, the Hope Marguerite, which was named after Raoul’s mother, to the hopes of her daughter-in-law, who had the courage to follow her dreams and still continues to do so—and now to the third generations of Beaumonts living on the farm, with plenty of grandchildren to pass the baton on to.
With enough hope anything is possible.
P.s: Jayne’s son-in-law (married to Ariane) is Jean-Pierre Rossouw, the well-known food writer and publisher of Platter’s. At the launch of ‘Jayne’s Pinor Noir’ he performed a poem he wrote for her, accompanied by Moreira Chonguiça.
- Malu Lambert