Duimpie Bayly: Loss and Memory

Whoever said that nobody is irreplaceable had obviously never met Duimpie Bayly. Many of us, so many, had the rug pulled out from beneath our respective worlds on Wednesday when the news came that Duimpie had died of a heart-attack at home. Fittingly, if there is such a thing in death, he had just returned from a visit to Neethlingshof Estate to collect wine before his number was dialled.

Francis Carr Bayly packed a massive slice of the South African wine industry into that short frame of his. Not that short, really, but the kids at St Andrew’s in Bloemfontein thought their fellow scholar was slight enough to be named after the Afrikaans word for a small thumb, that be Duimpie.

Everyone in wine knew him. And if they did not know him, they knew of him.

The son of a sheep-farmer who died when Duimpie was only 12, he came to the Cape in the late 1950s to study BSc at the University of Stellenbosch. His mind was set on science, wine he knew as an integral part of student life, something he lived to the full. He loved telling how he was asked to leave university residence and told not to return. The student authorities, apparently, wrote to his mother, informing her his son was expelled from campus lodgings for “the repeated use of strong drink”.

A chance meeting with the legendary former MD of Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, Ronnie Melck, saw Duimpie landing a job in the SFW laboratory in 1962 doing analyses on samples. The fermented juice of the grape triggered something in him. Off he went to University of California, Davis to study winemaking and viticulture.

Back with his MSc Degree in Viticulture and Oenology, plus his American bride Sue and a throaty Mustang supercar, Duimpie hit the cellars of SFW where he selected vineyard blocks, negotiated contracts with grape-growers and made many of the wines in SFWs legendary range. He also travelled the wine world, learning with his eyes, honing his incredible skills as taster and making friends wherever the winds took him.

As small as the name Duimpie implies, as large was his personality and the effect he had on people. He was a thoughtful and interested listener, and an easy conversationalist, as comfortable talking to his lowest cellar-hands as he was with the global captains of industry he befriended. When the conversation opened to allow a gap for a joke or a story, Duimpie was first out of the blocks. He jested others in his company with a lovable quick wit and was a master of self-deprecation, always ready to laugh at himself.

Somehow you were always glad to see Duimpie, and he would appear happy to see you. A mischievous smile and an ever-present twinkle in his eye, waiting for a reason and opportunity to enthuse, riposte or help kick-start the conversation on whatever topic this might turn-out to be. In this, I for the life of me cannot remember Duimpie speaking unkindly about anybody or going off on some dull, negative and morose rant.

To me, the reason for this eternally positive outlook resulted from his appreciation of what he had, where he lived and the world he moved in. There was Sue in the house on the Lynedoch small-holding they shared with Duimpie’s beloved cattle. There were friends, so many friends, old and young, friends he felt just as fortunate to have as we ourselves were to have him.

And I think this was one of the reasons Duimpie so loved wine and saw in its fabric layers that are not often recognised, namely that the diverse facets of wine’s making and growing and selling and studying and learning, this draws people to one another. This allowed for life-long friendships. It saw him able to hold a wealth of friends. This wine gave him. Therefore, he loved it so.

For Duimpie, his friends would move mountains. Even years. Ask business tycoon Johann Rupert. In August 2010, Danie de Wet was visiting Rupert’s farm in Graaff-Reinet. De Wet remembers a call coming through to Rupert from Jan Scannell, then MD of Distell. Scannell needed Rupert’s advice concerning one Duimpie Bayly. With Duimpie turning 70 in October that year, he had reached the stipulated age for retirement from the board of Distell. Upon which Rupert told Scannell that “Duimpie will turn 70 – when I say so”. Duimpie remained on the board until 2013, into his 70s.

The wine industry he loved will forever be indebted to Duimpie’s selfless commitment in furthering its interests. Here he sat on more boards and committees than even he could remember: President of the South African Society of Oenology & Viticulture, as well as of the Cape of Good Hope Agricultural Society. He also served as chairman of the South African Demarcation Committee of the Wine of Origin System, the Wine and Spirit Board’s technical committee and of the SA National Wine Show Association. He was one the first people ever to earn the Cape Wine Master accreditation and he was a sought-after judge on many wine and brandy competitions.

I was fortunate to attend some meetings with him. When these were held in a winery board-room and the request for coffee or tea was thrown-out at around 10:30, Duimpie would put on a stern face complemented by a devilish frown and a look at the host. He’d nudge his head, egging-on our host to offer the third drink of choice, namely “a little something”. A glass of wine, preferably of the sparkling kind, would be brought for Duimpie, with the other guests soon following.

Now and again Duimpie would proudly refer to his Irish heritage, but Irish poetry was the one thing I never got to chat to him about. So, for you Squire, a few words from WB Yeats which I had the liberty of choosing now you are no longer here in body, but forever in spirit shall be:

Go ask the springing flowers,

And the flowing air above,

What are the twin-born waters,

And they’ll answer Death and Love.

The End.

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15 thoughts on “Duimpie Bayly: Loss and Memory

  1. The warmth that came from your pen could be felt legions away. What a very special tribute, Emile.

  2. Beautifully written and so very apt for the great person that we all knew as “Duimpie” Thanks Emile – his parting certainly leaves a massive hollow.

  3. What a beautiful tribute.

    I’m also an Old Boy of St Andrews, Bloemfontein and only had the pleasure of meeting him at at the school’s 150th anniversary reunion.

    An absolute gentleman!

  4. I loved reading this beautiful tribute to this special man. I can see that naughty grin and twinkle he always had in his eye. Such a loss to the industry and to the world.

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