Happy Heritage Day everyone! In the spirit of celebrating the unique cultures and customs that make up the rich and varied tapestry of the Rainbow Nation, we thought we’d share a few interesting bits of Swartland heritage that we have rustled up over the course of our interviews and interactions with the fascinating producers that form a part of the Swartland Wine- & Olive Route.
1. Swartland Wine- & Olive Route established itself
“When the powers that be divided all the cellars into wine routes back in my father’s time, they found that there were six cellars that didn’t seem to belong anywhere. Allesverloren, Riebeek Cellars, Swartland Cellars, Porterville Cellars, Darling Cellars and Winkelshoek didn’t quite seem to fit, but ended up being filed under Stellenbosch for practical purposes. This is why we used to show our wines under the Stellenbosch banner up until 1986,” remembers Danie Malan, the fifth-generation Malan to farm on Allesverloren.
This all changed when Olla Oliver encountered the late Fanie Malan at Allesverloren one day on his way to Swartland Cellar and expressed his surprise at finding him there. “He told my father he thought the farm was in Stellenbosch and this was the final straw – my dad rounded up the directors of the Swartland wineries and it was decided to differentiate themselves and establish a wine route of their own,” he chuckles.
2. Riebeek Wine Valley Co. arose against the backdrop of World War II
Against the tumultuous backdrop of World War II, nine of the most tenacious wine farmers in the Swartland banded together to establish Riebeek Wynboere Koöperatiewe Maatskappy Beperk (Riebeek Wine Farmers’ Co-operative Company Limited) on Augustus 2nd, 1941. Jakob Stephanus Naudé Bruwer was chosen as MD of the fledgling winery and later passes the baton to PJ Venter. The first Annual General Meeting is conducted on December 9th, 1942. Today, the company is known as Riebeek Valley Wine Co. and known for creating wines that celebrate the tenacity of the region’s growers and producers.
3. Swartland Renosterveld is very important & our wine farmers are stepping up
Swartland Renosterveld is a subsection of the Cape floral kingdom, characterised by Elytropappus rhinocerotis (the shrub that turns almost charcoal grey at the height of summer and gave the Swartland its name), interspersed with a myriad geophytes, small shrubs, and annuals.
Renosterveld naturally occurs in areas with fertile clay soil and relatively high rainfall, which makes it ideal farmland. Only 3% of the original Swartland renosterveld has survived or is left intact. It’s therefore vitally important that the strips of renosterveld that are untransformed and often found in inaccessible areas should be secured under various forms of protection.
Producers like Kloovenburg Wine & Olive Estate are instrumental in this regard. The estate has joined forces with the World Wildlife Foundation in 2019 to become a voluntary Conservation Champion with a focus on preserving the critically endangered Swartland Shale Renosterveld and pockets of ancient Afromontane forest that lie sheltered in the ravines of Kasteelberg, a sizeable part of which forms part of Kloovenburg’s holdings.
4. Lammershoek used to comprise almost all of the Swartland
The first-ever mention of Lammershoek can be found in documentation that dates back to 1714, when it was granted as a lone farm to one Adriaan van Jaarsveld and his wife Cornelia Nel, a newly married French Huguenot couple. Official ownership was granted to the couple in 1718, and in 1719 we find the first mention of 600 vines being planted on Lammershoek. It was these vineyards that paved the way for the winemaking tradition that is still alive and kicking on the farm three centuries down the line.
“Back then, the farm extended all the way from the Paardeberg to Kasteelberg mountain,” says winemaker Schalk Oppermann. “In the intervening years, pockets of land were sold off, most recently to our neighbours Môrelig and Sadie Family Wines. That’s why I say Lammershoek was the original Swartland farm – the rest all used to be part of it.”
5. Leeuwenkuil is situated at the crossroads of what used to be the N1
“The farm was first granted in 1693, and the first vineyards that were documented were planted in 1705. Back then there were 4000 vines,” explains Willie Dreyer, owner of Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards. “At that stage the main road from the Cape Colony to the midlands ran through the farm. The owner of the farm, Johan von Beveren, was a paid official of the VOC and it was his responsibility to keep the little ford over the river intact so the travelers who came through here would not get stuck.”
6. The Brinks from Pulpit Rock were one earliest farming families to settle in the Riebeek Valley
One of the earliest farming families to settle in the Riebeek Valley were the Brinks. They bought their first farm, De Gift, in 1865 and began farming in true Swartland style, with a combination of sheep, cattle, grain and a smattering of vineyards. In 1890, Groenrivier was added to their stand, bringing it to 800ha. However, winemaking is in the Brink blood.
The family’s talent for this age-old craft have always been apparent, and the dream to make their own wine had lingered for decades. Groot Constantia approached Grandpa Pieter Van Der Byl Brink to become their winemaker in 1918 when he had finished his diploma at Elsenburg, but the time was not yet ripe. His father wanted him on the farm, and to soften the blow, great-grandpa Daniel Pieter Stephanus Brink built his son wine cellar where he could pursue his own experiments.
7. Org de Rac is the first fully organic farm to be established in the Swartland
“Org de Rac Organic Wine Estate is currently the only organic vineyard in the Swartland,” says cellar master Frank Meaker. “There are a few others that are systematically moving in this direction, but currently we are the only one that initially started out as an organic venture. We opened our doors it was a pretty progressive move, because the return to organic farming had just really started out in South Africa; the trend was only just emerging. There were a lot of top university people involved in the establishment of the farm, and we produced our first wine in 2005.”
8. Het Vlock Casteel is modeled on the Castle of Good Hope
When Ansie and Johan Vlok decided to transform the structure on their farm into something worthy of a visit, they turned to the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town for inspiration.
“I always say Johan is creative outside on the farm, my creativity is my head,” says Ansie. “I got the idea for the building one night while my children were busy with a school project, tracing back the history of the Vlok family. We’d realised that our original forebears came from somewhere on the border of Germany and the Netherlands, and it was this link that got me to thinking about the castle in Cape Town. The very next Sunday, we went for a visit, and picked up the pamphlets that would ultimately serve as inspiration for Het Vlock Casteel.”
9. Malmesbury was founded because of its natural mineral springs
The town of Malmesbury originally developed around natural mineral springs that were believed to have medicinal qualities. The first settlers were mostly illiterate with little religious education, and the nearest church was 65km away in Table Bay. When a traveling governor of the VOC came for an inspection of the outlying settlement, he recommended that a church be built in the area. As such, the town was first known as ‘Het Zwartelandskerk’. It was renamed in 1897 by Governor Lowry Cole, in honour of his father-in-law, Sir James Harris, First Earl of Malmesbury.
10. The Swartland was first called so in writing in 1701
The written history of the area we call the Swartland came about in the 1600s, when Commander Jan van Riebeeck established a victualling station for the VOC along the Cape of Good Hope and started sending expeditions to find more indigenous people with whom he could trade.
Jan Wintervogel was sent out on 15 March 1655, but it was the expedition lead by Pieter Cruijthoff on 30 January 1661 that would ultimately put the region on the map as a potential agricultural outpost. He traveled as far as Kasteelberg Mountain, encountering quaggas, rhinoceros, lions, and hartebeest along the way. The first loan farms in this area were later granted to settlers at the turn of the 18th century due to a rapidly increasing demand for cattle and crops as the Cape settlement grew from a victualling station into a colony.
The area that lies between the three mountains of Kasteelberg, Paardeberg, and Piketberg was first called ‘Het Swartland’ in writing on 22 August 1701 by Corporal Tarus of the Riebeek Kasteel Military Post.
There you have it – 10 interesting bits of Swartland heritage to brighten your day! Keep an eye on the blog in the coming weeks and months for more inspiring stories and legendary tales from South Africa’s maverick wine route.