Double Legend: Rugby and Wine
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: @rugby365com’s acclaimed writer Paul Dobson takes a closer look at a rugby man turned winemaker
In the Western Cape rugby football and wine go hand in hand.
With great honour, it has been personified in Jan Boland Coetzee, rugby Springbok and much-honoured man of wine.
His name is really Johannes Hermanus Hugo Coetzee. He had that name from birth on 20 January 1945 in Porterville, up the West Coast of the Western Cape. And he stayed Jan Coetzee when he grew up near the sea and went off to Hoërskool Swartland in Malmesbury.
He wanted to be a vet, but Onderstepoort would not have him. The whole wine industry of South Africa should thank Onderstepoort, because instead young Jan Coetzee applied to the University of Stellenbosch and they accepted him into the faculty of agriculture to study vines and wines. That was in 1963.
Naturally this muscular young man wanted to play rugby and off he went to the great Matie Cup with its more than 70 teams. He became the captain of the Under-18 team, but because there was now more than one Jan Coetzee in the club, Doc Craven dubbed this new Jan Coetzee, Jan Boland Coetzee, and so he has remained, sometimes just Boland Coetzee. And between this tough forward and Doc Craven a bond grew. Just recently, Jan Boland said: “Doc was my mentor for 30 years.”
When Doc wrote about Jan Boland in his book Die Groot Rugbygesin van die Maties, the first characteristic he noted was Jan Boland’s loyalty. The only club Jan Boland belonged to was Stellenbosch. The only province he played for was Western Province. He was 34 when he stopped playing. By then he had played for the Maties for 17 years and in 13 seasons he had played on the flank for Western Province 127 times, a record. He had also played for Southern Universities, the Gazelles and the Junior Springboks. And in 1974, JHH Coetzee became a Springbok. That year he played against the great B&I Lions at Newlands. In 1975 he played against France at Loftus Versfeld and then in all four Tests when the Springboks beat Andy Leslie’s All Blacks 3-1 in the series. He was also in the Western Province side that year that won a dramatic victory over the All Blacks.
He was not tall and was not fast, but he gave every bit of that tough, powerful body to the game. He had no fear. In modern rugby he would be referred to as a fetcher. And he had great strength and no fear in playing to the ball. When he carried the ball, he had no fear, just great strength and determination. And when he tackled, he hurt.
And when stopped playing he coached; and when he stopped coaching he became an administrator.
Jan Boland Coetzee was one of the great characters of Western Province Rugby, a great man of rugby.
And as he was on the rugby field, so he has been in life – not flashy but down to earth and determined – and clever.
A graduate from Stellenbosch University in 1968, he went to work on the Sauer family farm Kanonkop on the slopes of Simonsberg. In 1973, Kanonkop’s cellarmaster, Jan Boland himself, produced the estate’s first bottled wines, a name that has become famous in the Western Cape, synonymous with wine of a high quality. He left Kanonkop and in 1980 he bought his own farm on the slopes of the Stellenbosch mountain – Vriesenhof, where he still is the cellarmaster 40 years later. He went to Burgundy in France in 1981, learning all about vines and wines, from the ground that housed the vines to the air they breathed and the treatment of their harvest. He came back to Vriesenhof in 1982 in time for harvesting.
Over the years Jan Boland Coetzee has made a significant contribution to wine farming in the Western Cape. He not only helped, sometimes surreptitiously, to introduce chardonnay but did much else to develop winemaking and went beyond that. He and his wife did much to improve the living conditions of farmworkers and their families. Jan Boland was one of the founders of the Rural Foundation in 1970 which aimed at improving workers’ lives. He was also a founding member of the Cape Winemakers Guild in 1982, a body which encourages excellence and innovation.
Jan Boland was honoured as a player and he has been honoured, too, in his chosen life’s work. In April 2019, the University of Stellenbosch conferred on Jan Boland an honorary doctorate (DScAgric honoris cause) for “his pursuit of excellence in the development of technology and management in the South African wine industry, in the crafting of fine South African wines; and for his generosity of spirit through his selfless dedication to knowledge transfer and engaged citizenship to improve the working and living conditions of farmworkers”.
In February 2020 he was awarded the 1659 Medal of Honour at the annual Wine Harvest Commemorative event at Groot Constantia Wine Estate.
In making the award, Dr Ernest Messina, chairman of Groot Constantia, said: “Jan Boland Coetzee makes a constructive contribution to positioning the wine industry at a higher level. The industry is definitely better off because of his vision and involvement.
“His tangible actions to give greater human dignity, pride and honour to the industry and all its people … deeply touched people’s lives and created a legacy that is hard to erase.”
A man to make you proud.
Main picture: vriesenhof.co.za