The gravel roads leading to Leeuwenkuil

Author: Pieter Carstens

It is grain harvest time in the Swartland and Willie Dreyer (owner of Leeuwenkuil), like many other farmers in the area, spend most of his day driving a combine harvester. If you want to visit him during this time, you need to drive deep into the beautiful Paardeberg area of the Swartland and directions to find him usually follow with: “Buurman, take the gravel road to …..”.

What a pleasant and scenic drive it is to Leeuwenkuil. Amid all the curve balls 2020 threw at us, thankfully Mother Nature took great care of us. The long-term rainfall average of Leeuwenkuil is 387mm and currently the 2020-year total is measured at a whopping 470mm! The visible effect of the higher than normal rainfall can be seen in the excellent grain harvest and the way the vineyards are growing. We just hope and pray that our friends in other drought-stricken parts of South Africa and Namibia also receive nice rains.

12 years ago, Willie took the bold step to start his own wine company to add value to his vast hectares of family owned vineyards. Soon after Leeuwenkuil passed the 1000-day business test, planning started to one day own its own winery – a hugely exciting project for everybody involved!  So, the gravel roads surrounding the beautiful homestead of Leeuwenkuil don’t only lead to grain fields and many hectares of vineyards, you’ll also have to travel ‘grondpad’ to visit this brand new winery.

August 2019 saw the arrival of the first yellow machines to start the civil works and make the dream and planning a reality. The photo below was taken 23 October 2019. The retainer wall you see is 5m tall and ensure the gravity flow of grapes into the winery.   

By 10 December 2019 the skeletal structure for the first buildings was complete.

By 10 December 2019 the skeletal structure of the first buildings was completed.

There are numerous reasons why a winery on the farm became a necessity and the main reason being quality. October/November is the months when vineyards in the Swartland grow, while January/February/March is harvest time. Unfortunately, the latter are also the warmest months in the Cape. To maintain optimal fruit quality, we designed a picking and gravitational flow system that allows careful handling and swift cooling of the grapes. The window for optimal harvest time is very small in the Swartland and we can’t delay picking. Harvesting must continue, even if the previous night’s temperature did not cool down enough. In these cases, we need cellar intervention to preserve grape quality.   

For winemaker Pieter Carstens, the farm-based winery will improve the quality of Leeuwenkuil’s wines. “The cellar is in the vineyards and the design allows me to be flexible and make even more components than we could manage in the past. Options at grape receiving are numerous – some bordering crazy! Essentially, we scaled-up numerous great processes we found around the world and even took some ideas from the fishing industry. The design is practical and well thought-out and if anything is not up to standard; I’m the one to blame.”

Another reason for the big investment, derived from our respect for nature and the footprint we leave behind. We need to be sustainable and help to make the world a better place. Willie’s philosophy is that he merely borrows the land from his children and his biological-sustainable approach in the vineyards is mirrored by the winery design. It allows for a low water and electricity demand, while solar power covers most of the electricity needs during sunny days. All this is much easier to achieve with a new project that is well planned and designed. 

2021 is going to be a momentous year for Willie and his team. For the first time since the mid 1900’s, all the grapes from Leeuwenkuil will be crushed on the farm. While Willie concentrates on driving the combine harvester, he says: “Buurman, the energy in nature after the great winter is tangible and I experience the same energy every time I visit the winery. Short chain decision making remain essential to the success of our business and in the past many of our meetings happened in the vineyard over the bonnet of a bakkie. With the winemaking team based on the farm, I can pop in for a quick chat and planning session over a coffee, a glass of water or even better – wine!”      

Hopefully you will one day travel the gravel roads which lead to Leeuwenkuil for a tasting at the long table in Emma’s gorgeous house, or have the privilege to spend time with Willie on the farm and in the winery.

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