Exploring Bellingham: The Prolific South African Winery with Diverse Wine Selections

By | 13 February 2024

Bellingham holds an influential position in South Africa’s winery culture, both traditionally and currently. Despite a production of just over 1000 tons each vintage, it successfully strikes a balance between more commercial, widely available offerings, and also crafting more refined wines that are still well distributed.

The journey of Bellingham starts with Bernard Podlashuk. In 1943, he and his wife Fredagh took over a neglected but formerly illustrious estate near the borders of Paarl and Franschhoek. They dedicated themselves to restorations of the grand manor house, even receiving help from Italian prisoners of war.

They revitalized the farm with new vine plantations. To gain a better understanding of wine production, they journeyed to France and Germany.

In 1949, they introduced the first rosé in the Cape, and by 1956 they had produced the first varietal Shiraz from South Africa. Bellingham was also the first to integrate active cooling into their wine cellar. The 1980s and 1990s saw substantial growth for Bellingham.

The 80s and 90s marked a time of vineyard growth and cellar expansion, grounding the inception of Bellingham’s modernist approach to winemaking. Although its roots are firmly ingrained in its innovative past, today, Bellingham is a contemporary brand producing distinct wines for the 21st century that unmistakably embody their locale and style.

Our tasting was conducted with Richard Duckitt, the shepherd of the Bellingham range. Being from the west coast, he was always fascinated with fermentation and distillation prior to becoming a winemaker.

According to Richard, the characteristic style of Bellingham has slightly evolved over recent times. What was once a profoundly rich style has been tempered somewhat. This subtle shift can be tasted in the wines, which are seemingly better than ever.

Bellingham Chardonnay 2021, Stellenbosch
Carrying 13% alcohol, it is part of the Homestead range. The barrel-treated portion has undergone malolactic fermentation, whereas the tank-treated portion has not. This wine presents a fusion of brightness and depth with an emphasis on lemony fruit notes and refined herbal undertones. A hint of subtle toastiness is present. Its balance is impeccable. Score: 90/100

Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2022
13.5% alcohol. Sourced from certified heritage vineyards, going back as far as 1978-1987. The backbone of the blend (50%) is from Durbanville, Cape Town, contributing a citrusy character. Fermented in a mixture of large and small barrels (60%, with about half new oak), 10% in concrete and amphora. All fermentation is natural. This wine is beautifully balanced with notes of pear and peach, alongside a hint of citrus. It’s fruity and expressive with a certain richness but also an underlying brightness. It’s linear, refined, with just a trace of sweetness on the finish. A fine wine indeed. Score: 92/100.

Bellingham The Founders Series Freda 2021 Coastal Region
This is a boutique production, creating just a few barrels of three different wines. This one is a white blend, based predominantly on Chenin Blanc (the ratio changes every vintage). This year, 50% is Chenin from Durbanville, 40% is Semillon from La Colline, and there’s 10% Grenache Blanc from the Swartland. The nose has a zesty, citrussy character with a bite. The palate is vibrant, concentrated, and powerful with a bitter edge to the sweet citrus fruit. It really stands out with its brightness and focus and will likely mature interestingly with age. Score: 93/100.

Bellingham Pinotage 2020 Stellenbosch
14% alcohol. The fruit is sourced from six or seven different estates, depending on the vintage. Most maturation is in old barrels. The result is a brightly, fruit-forward wine with flavors of fresh cherry and plum. It’s clean and pure, with a bright finish. A delightful showcase of well-executed Pinotage. Score: 89/100.

Bellingham The Bernard Series Bush Vine Pinotage 2020 Coastal Region
14% alcohol. The nose is enticingly sweet with fresh cherry, sweet plum, and a touch of blackberry, complemented by some delicate spicy notes, and a hint of leather and liquorice. The palate hints at sour cherry and typical Pinotage earthiness, but it’s also smooth, rather elegant with ripe berry fruits. It’s a highly appealing wine: polished but still showcasing some personality. Score: 91/100.

Bellingham The Bernard Series Basket Press Syrah 2020 Coastal Region
14% alcohol. The blend incorporates four separate vineyards, majority being Stellenbosch. Also encompasses some Simonsberg Paal and Darling. 40% of which is whole bunch, which is predominantly from the Polkadrai component. Packed with flavorful notes of juicy cherries and plums, with a subtle hint of blackcurrant and pepper. The combination of sweet fruit, fresh undertones, and pepper make it an appealing drink. It’s quite noteworthy for its style and understatement. Rated 93/100.

Bellingham The Founder Series Pod 2020
14% alcohol. Consists of Shiraz and Pinotage, the latter originating from Darling. 40% of it is new oak. The captivating ripe and rich taste, coupled with the unique notes of sweet cherry and berry fruits, adds focus and freshness to the blend. Its complexity is highlighted by the added spice, depth and the woody tones present. The structure is bold and weighty, and the intensity is just right. Rated 92/100.

Previous notes from November 2019:

Bellingham Sauvignon Blanc 2019
Harvested from shale soils in Durbanville in three phases. Machine-picked at night, it has had a 24-hour skin contact, and was left for six days at 6 C juice stabilization. The fruity passionfruit aromatics stand out, marked by a light green edge and chalky undertones. It’s a delightful fruity drink with balanced taste. Rating is 89/100.

Bellingham The Old Orchards Chenin Blanc 2018 Paarl
Fresh and supple with nice pear and apple fruit. Has a slight salinity. Lovely elegance and textured mouthfeel. Has a nice grainy structure and great drinkability. 90/100

Bellingham Chardonnay 2018 Stellenbosch
From a few different vineyards, half fermented in barrel (5% new oak, many of the barrels are 500 litre), half in tank. Ripe and fresh with some mandarin, peach and spice, as well as fennel and pear skin. Juicy finish with nice freshness on the finish. 88/100

Bellingham Pinotage 2017 Stellenbosch
Malolactic in a barrel, 7% new oak. Carries a supple green hint and nice cherry and berry fruits with a bit of grip. A tiny hint of oak is present. Leaning towards elegance. 88/100

Bellingham Shiraz 2017 Paarl
Fresh, elegant and finely spiced, with a lovely perfume. Expresses restraint and drinkability with red cherries and berries. Subtle and appetizing with a good structure. 91/100

Bellingham The Bernard Series Whole Bunch Roussanne 2019 Coastal Region
All fruit is from Paardeberg (Paarl). The wine is unwooded and made in two different batches, one more resembling Sauvignon and one more Chardonnay. The blend includes 10% Grenache Blanc. The lively and expressive traits of this wine are characterized by bright citrus fruit, some elements of grapefruit and spice, a bit of salinity, and good acidity. The pure and chiselled wine prides itself on precision. The rating is 93 out of 100.

Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2018 Coastal Region
About half of the wine comes from a 38 year old vineyard in WO Cape Town (Durbanville), with the rest sourced from three or four vineyards. The wine entails plenty of wild ferment, adding complexity and liveliness along with some spice (30% new oak, 30% foudre, 40% old barrels) and bright citrus fruit. Amphora (from Italy) and a bit of concrete are also used during the production process. The wine presents a nice grip with grainy structure. The balance of lovely spiciness with richness and finesse is appealing, hinting that this 2018 version is fresher compared to the previous incarnations of this wine. The rating stands at 92 out of 100.

Bellingham Bernard Series Bush Vine Pinotage 2016
The wine’s origin trace back to three vineyards: Darling, Cape Town, and Stellenbosch. Open-top barrels and two-ton fermenters were used for this vintage, however, more recent vintages were fermented in concrete tanks. Being pressed off to barrels (40% new oak), the wine is characterized by cherries, plums, spice and some sweet berry fruits. It demonstrates a nice structure which compliments the fresh, supple, and reasonably elegant fruit with some green framing. Some elements of sour cherry are also present. The rating for this wine is 89 out of 100.

Bellingham The Bernard Series Basket Press Syrah 2017
The three vineyards that contributed to the making of this wine are two from Stellenbosch (Polkerdrai [peppery], Bottelary Hills [berryish]), and Simonsberg Paarl. The wine, having 30% new oak, is juicy and spicy accompanied by a nice supple cherry and plum fruit. The good structure of the wine brings out its berryish and bright characteristics along with a grippy edge and some firmness. With a lot of flavour, the wine manages to show some restraint and balance. A hint of pepper is also noticeable. The rating of the wine is 90 out of 100


Bellingham The Founders Series Freda 2017 Coastal Region
This premium white blend is named after Fredagh Poldashuk, the wife of Bernard. The debut edition boasts a unique blend of 40% Chenin, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, and 30% Grenache Blanc. It took a month to create the perfect combination – the 35-year old Chenin came from Heldeberg in Stellenbosch and underwent fermentation in a foudre, while the Sauvignon was sourced from Durbanville and the Grenache from Perderberg, both aged in barrels. The final is noteworthy for its freshness and linear spice track leavened with a touch of vanilla in the background. It demonstrates great structure, fine acidity, and potential for long-lasting maturation. 94/100 (650 R)

Bellingham The Founders Series The Quintessential Couple Rosé 2018
This rosé, made from Pinotage and Shiraz harvested from old vines dating back to 1977 and 1978, is uniquely created from free-run juice that is lightly settled and fermented in barrels with cooling plates. It boasts a vibrant profile packed with crisp citrus, pear, and hints of cranberry, punctuated with undertones of fennel and herb. With its great acidity, complex gastronomic notes and interesting texture, this dry rosé scores 92/100 (650 R).

Bellingnam The Founders Series POD 2015
In honour of Bernard, this namesake wine, POD, is a robust blend of 70% Darling Pinotage and 30% Bottelary Shiraz. It is aged in 40% new oak, resulting in a dense, spicy, and somewhat leathery blend, characterised by a savory, gravelly, chalky edge to the fruit. However, it retains a lively freshness coupled with a concentrated and deep profile. It presents as a serious, structured wine with development potential, showing some oak but well integrated. It scores 92/100 (R650).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *