Wine industry mourns passing of two legends

by | Aug 13, 2021 | Article, News

WineLand Media pays tribute to two true legends of the South African wine industry, Oom Bertie van der Merwe (Alvi’s Drift) and Duimpie Bayly (former Distell Group board member), both of whom passed away during the month of August. They will forever be remembered for their immense contribution to the South African wine industry. 

‘Oom’ Bertie van der Merwe (1937 – 2021)

Bertie van der Merwe (83), a well-known farmer from the Worcester district, will be remembered as a pillar of strength in the Western Cape wine and agricultural circles. He died of a heart attack on Monday, 2 August 2021.

Bertie was born and raised on a farm just outside Worcester in the Breede River Valley, which his father, Albertus Viljoen ‘Alvi’ van der Merwe (a former Springbok rugby player), bought in 1928. The farm’s name, Alvi’s Drift, is derived from a drift, or low-water bridge, across the Breede River near the farm that was built by Bertie’s father at the time.

Bertie’s son, Johan, describes his father as a “tough SAP” (a supporter of the South African Party), and someone who had a special passion for agriculture and the farm. “He was also principled, but had the ability to bring out the best in people,” Johan says.

Although English was not his first language, Bertie completed his school career at Rondebosch High School. There he excelled as Dux pupil, head boy and captain of the school’s under 19 A rugby team. He went on to complete a Bsc Agric degree at University of Stellenbosch. 

Bertie was one of the country’s largest private wine farmers, former chairman of the South African Brandy Foundation and served on the KWV’s board for many years. Over the years he built up the farm and expanded to citrus, dairy, poultry, pigs and deciduous fruit.

The dairy division, Alfalfa, was started in 1967 by Bertie and his father after the dairy cooperative went bankrupt and they capitalised on the opportunity. Today, Alvi’s Drift’s dairy division consists of dairy cattle, the packaging and processing of milk, as well as a cheese factory.

Johan, who manages the dairy division, says his dad was a good businessman. “Even though my dad was often at odds with the more conservative board members and executives at the time, he was well loved by everyone. He was also respected for his sharp mind and discernment when it came to conducting business.”

Johan says his father was still strong and actively involved with the farming business. “He would be seen kick-starting his motorcycle and driving around the farm on a daily basis.” Bertie is survived by his wife Muberna, his two sons Alvi and Johan, two daughters Melize and Rentia, and nine grandchildren.

Francis Carr (Duimpie) Bayly (1939 – 2021)

A legend among wine legends, is how the wine industry would describe Francis Carr (Duimpie) Bayly, who passed away due to a heart attack at his home in Stellenbosch on Wednesday, 11 August.

As one of the Cape Wine Academy’s first three recognised Cape Wine Masters in 1983, Duimpie leaves a remarkable legacy in the South African wine industry, spanning more than 60 years. His warm sense of humour, matched with his professional approach (and series of positions held in and beyond the South African wine industry), stand testament to his respected stature behind one of the country’s most impactful agricultural drivers. 

Duimpie’s successful career started soon after he completed his tertiary qualifications, which included a BSc degree from Stellenbosch University, MSc from the University of California (Davis), and a PMD from Harvard. He worked at Stellenbosch Farmers Winery (now Distell) for 40 years, working his way up from 1962 to become group operations director. 

He has been intertwined in so many facets of the South African wine industry, that the list of his involvement and achievements would almost be endless. He served as president of the South African Society of Oenology & Viticulture and the Cape of Good Hope Agricultural Society (Agri Expo), and as chairperson for both the Wine and Spirit Board’s technical committee and the South African Demarcation Committee, which is part of the Wine of Origin System aimed at delineating growing areas. He was also part of the board who established the South African Brandy Foundation in 1984 and served on the board of the SA National Wine Show for over 30 years, eight of which as chairperson.  

As chairman of the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative, he spearheaded a partnership between the conservation sector and the wine industry that has seen substantially more land rehabilitated to indigenous habitat than is cultivated to vines. 

In 1999 Duimpie received the South African wine industry’s iconic 1659 medal of honour for his contribution to the industry and in 2018 he was honoured by the Pinotage Association for his exceptional role in the cultivar’s development.

“Duimpie will always be remembered for his positivity, passion, caring nature and exceptional knowledge of the wine industry – not to mention his witty quirks and michievous grin!” says Vinpro MD Rico Basson. “The stories he would often recall from the past, really shed some light on the amazing strides the South African wine and brandy industries have made on various fronts over the past few decades, and that we can stand proudly among our global competitors. Thank you, ‘oom’ Duimpie, for the great legacy you’ve left behind, which will inspire us to reach new heights.”

His dedication to the industry went miles beyond, as his commitment as a friend, peer and lifelong advisor truly shines in the friendships and partnerships he has forged. His nickname (Duimpie, meaning “little thumb”) may refer to his size as a young boy at boarding school. However, his stature and the mark that he has made on the South African wine industry is not small in the least. 

Duimpie is survived by his wife, Sue, three children and grandchildren.

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