Bateleur: King of the Skies, and of Chardonnay

It graces the skies in a unique rocking motion, the eyes on its scarlet facial mask seeking its prey in the valleys, mountains and veld of Southern Africa. This black, white and grey plumed raptor, with the characteristic short tail and orange-red claws, is the magnificent Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus), the eagle that has been named by BirdLife South Africa as the country’s Bird of the Year for 2024.

And for wine-lovers around the world, the name Bateleur might also find purchase, as this is the name of the premium Chardonnay made by De Wetshof Estate in Robertson, one of South Africa’s pioneering Chardonnay estates.

It was Danie de Wet who in 1991 as owner-winemaker of De Wetshof made the decision to name the farm’s first bottling of a single-vineyard Chardonnay after the Bateleur eagle – 10 years after De Wetshof had made released its maiden Chardonnay onto the market.

The Bateleur. Photograph: André Botha

“I had a vineyard planted in 1987 from plant material I propagated from vine-cuttings sourced from the Clos de Mouches vineyard in Burgundy,” recalls Danie. “The 3.5ha vineyard had produced an incredible Chardonnay expressing the distinctive terroir of its site on De Wetshof, and as the wine was maturing in barrel – new wood – I decided that this wine deserved to be bottled under its own label. Problem was, I did not have a name, something that is of vital importance if you as a winemaker and farm-owner want to make a statement.”

Since his childhood years Danie had been a frequent visitor to the Kruger National Park in the Lowveld, the African wildlife being – along with wine – his presiding passion. And in 1991 he was in Kruger with his wife Lesca and sons Johann and Peter, marvelling at the wonders of the bush. But still, at the back of his mind, thinking about that nameless and special Chardonnay resting in oak barrels back home on De Wetshof.

Danie de Wet

“At that stage the message I wanted to convey about that Chardonnay was that it should be able to soar and fly above any form of criticism, rising up above the rest,” says Danie.

And then it happened. “One afternoon, drifting above the veld in a pale blue sky was the form of the Bateleur eagle,” he remembers. “I had always been drawn by this bird’s flight pattern, a graceful rocking motion as if it was dancing through the sky. No wonder the eagle was named after the French word for juggernaut (bateleur).

“Looking at the bird in my usual state of wonder, it struck me – this was going to be the name of that Chardonnay. And the rest is, as they say in the classics, history.”

The first De Wetshof Bateleur Chardonnay was bottled in 1991 and since that initial offering it has gained a consistent reputation for excellence and deemed internationally as one of the world’s great Chardonnays. And the wine is still made from that very same vineyard planted 37 years ago.

The Bateleur eagle itself finds its home in diverse South African landscapes, from the Kruger National Park to the dry Kalahari as well as throughout sub-Sahara Africa. Unfortunately, it is now a threatened species with loss of natural habitat, poaching and poisoning having led to the demise of the population which today comprises less than adult 1 000 birds in South Africa.

Birdlife SA, who have named the Bateleur as South Africa’s Bird of the Year for 2024, has set-up various methods through which the public can contribute to efforts aimed at conserving the Bateleur. This is to be found at and The Endangered Wildlife Trust at

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