Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards is a Swartland institution. The estate on which it is situated was one of the earliest wine farms in the region – it has been around since 1693, when it was known as Schinderkuijl, and was noted as having 8000 vines. The Dreyer family took ownership of the farm in 1851 after a few subdivisions and has since developed it into the estate with the largest acreage of grape vines in the whole of South Africa.
Today Leeuwenkuil is the southernmost farm in the Swartland, serving as the gateway to this fascinating wine region, growing vineyards of distinction within sight of the majestic Table Mountain on the coolest parcel of land in the low-lying reaches of this grape-producing area. We recently caught up with owners Willie and Emma Dreyer to find out more about the farm that has been in their family for 7 consecutive generations, how they came to most prolific wine growers in South Africa and all about their singular ‘skrik vorentoe’ philosophy.
A history of bread, wine and love-related duels
Willie Dreyer is all-around nice guy and hands-on farmer with a sincere and enduring love of the land, who is also known for his unique sayings – he greets everyone as ‘buurman’ (neighbour) and is fond of referring to the ‘hartland’ (heartland). According to him, Leeuwenkuil is situated on a piece of land that used to play a pivotal role as inland victualing station for travellers from the Colony.
“The farm was first granted in 1693, and the first vineyards that were documented were planted in 1705. Back then there were 8000 vines,” explains Willie. “At that stage the main road from the Cape Colony to the midlands ran through the farm. The owner of the farm, Arij van Wyk, 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.”
“From here, the road wound its way through the river and then followed the natural curve of the land to the kloof on the other side of where the Voëlvlei dam is situated today. There was a huge oven here on the farm as well; Arij van Wyk baked and sold up to 200 loaves a day to passing travelers making their way from the Cape deeper into the country. It was the N1 of those times. The pathway that still runs between the historical structures on our farm today used to be the major thoroughfare into the highveld. So, the first farmer to live here made a nice, comfortable living selling his bread and wine.”
The first Dreyer to make his way onto Leeuwenkuil had a bit of an interesting backstory. Before making his way to South Africa and marrying the daughter of the owner at the time, Arij van Wyk, he had been a fugitive from Germany.
“Legend has it he had to flee Germany after defeating his opponent in a sword fight over a shared love interest,” says Emma. “He traveled under an assumed name because he was liable to be held up and imprisoned in his home country, but he took back the Dreyer name when he arrived safely in the colony and ended up marrying Arij van Wyk’s daughter, Sara.”
“On the transfer papers that we could find from that time his name appears alongside his father-in-law’s, so it looks like he was given shared ownership. From then on, the farm remained in the hands of the same family, although it was not always a Dreyer at the helm, as it passed from one generation to the next and the daughters married, assuming the surnames of their suitors.”
The next generation Dreyers and investing in the future
Willie and Emma met when they were sixteen and they have been a couple ever since. The pair were married in 1985 and went on to have five wonderful children – Anné, Francisce, Helanzi, Jonike and Willie Jnr.
“I’m merely borrowing the land from my children,” says Willie. For that reason, he is constantly challenging existing production norms and working to safeguard its natural heritage, electing, for instance, to keep its old vineyards, even though it’s not always financially sustainable.
“Langvlei, a very sought-after vineyard that forms part of our holdings, has been fully converted according to organic farming principles. Our family is also fully committed to sustainable practices, be it farming or investing in human capital. To this end we employ a full-time social worker to empower the members of the farming community with the skills and confidence to become successful individuals.”
The ‘skrik vorentoe’ philosophy & what it means
One of the main credos they live by on Leeuwenkuil, according to Willie, is to ‘skrik vorentoe’. This Afrikaans saying is hard to translate, but essentially it means to ‘take fright in a forward motion’.
“Since 1993, we have expanded every year, even though the lean years and the drought, and we will keep doing so,” says Willie. “We put new vines in the soil every year because we believe in the tenacity of the South African wine industry and the people who draw their livelihoods from it. We’re not going anywhere. We get great satisfaction from making beautiful wines because it brings our people together.”
“In terms of planted area, we are the biggest wine grape producers in South Africa, but we don’t have the biggest production. We have between 1200 and 1300 hectares of vineyard, mainly dryland, 35% of which is grown as bush vines. But that does not make us the biggest producer, since our yields are fairly low in the Swartland. The effects of climate change in our area forced us to find irrigation water to attempt to mitigate the impact of the lengthy dry spells. As such, 40% of our vineyards are currently under supplementary irrigation,” explains Willie.
The family is currently in the process of building a small French-style winery on their farm.
“After the 2008 harvest, we took a bold step to owning a larger part of the value chain,” says Willie. “We decided to stop selling off our grapes and to move towards making and selling the wine ourselves. It was humble beginnings and there was no money for a flashy winery. Instead, we invested in planting more vineyards – we rented unused space in a Stellenbosch winery and found some more space at a Swartland winery three years later. The heart of our business is founded on partnerships on many levels – we take hands with talented people when it comes to growing, making and marketing our wines.”
“Our next ‘skrik vorentoe’ initiative will be to invest in a winery that will be able to handle nice volumes of grapes very gently in order to convert high-quality grapes into world-class wines. We need to have different grape intake options to maximise the quality from every vineyard parcel.”
How to get a hold of Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards wines
If you want to head out to the Swartland for a tasting on the farm, plan ahead so you can contact the team to confer on a suitable date and time – the working farm situated in the Swartland is a bustling hub of activity and the Leeuwenkuil team likes to be prepared when they receive visitors. Otherwise, you can simply make your way to The Wine Kollective in Riebeek Kasteel to taste a few Leeuwenkuil wines if you happen to make your way out to the Swartland on a whim.
QUICK LINKS >> Website: www.leeuwenkuilfv.co.za| Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Telephone Number: (021) 865 2455