Visiting this newly revamped Somerset West wine estate last week, gave meaning to the Latin inscription on its sundial, meaning ‘every hour is a part of life’.
Long lasting traditions of SA’s rich cultural heritage were revived when making the journey along the tree lined gravel road towards the Cape Dutch, gable and thatch homestead. Finding oneself on this ancient Cape Werf is reminiscent of quaint scenes of the early 1600’s, when lords and ladies, and even royals frequented these magnificent grounds.
The harmonious blend of the estate’s most recent additions in modern architectural designs resulting from innovative heritage planning in combining the old and new, makes for pleasurable viewing. The impressive surroundings of 60 hectares of a cultural heritage area, is also where 17 different gardens lighten the air with wonderful varieties of natural scents.
Setting the tone for memorable wine and food tasting was the garden tour lead by resident horticulturist Richard Arm. The newly constructed wine tasting centre, where misting sprays on the outdoor veranda offer a welcome reprieve from the Boland heat, was the starting point from where many of the exclusive gardening highlights were viewed. The meander included viewings of the traditional octagonal shaped herb and vegetable gardens, divided into quadrants of medicinal, aromatic, culinary and indigenous African species. News came of an 18th garden addition on the cards in the second renewal phase of the former Vergelegen Restaurant.
For many the most charming garden feature at Vergelegen is the beautifully preserved section that is home to five stately old camphor trees. Introduced to the Cape from China and Japan, it was planted here by the farm’s original owner, Adriaan van der Stel between 1700 and 1706, and these gigantic Cinnamomum Camphora were proclaimed national monuments in 1942. Subject to annual inspections by a forestry and agricultural expert from the University of Pretoria, the life expectancy of these trees are estimated to be a an additional 150 to 200 years. As a result, a dedicated team of horticulturists continue to cultivate seedlings to ensure the long term preservation of this plant species. Across the lawns behind the homestead is an ancient 300 year old hollow English Oak. In the same area is the Giant Oak, grown from an acorn that survived a sea trip from the UK in the 1920’s, now boasting a plaque unveiled by Queen Elizabeth 11 during a state visit in 1995.
Making the trip up the hill to the famous cellars in full view of the Hottentots Holland Mountains, highlighted the massive alien vegetation clearing project by the farm’s owners Anglo American. Since its inception in 2010, a total of 1213 hectares have been cleared with the remainder of 1000 hectares due for completion by 2015. The farm has since benefited extensively from the subsequent natural re-instatement of scarce water resources.
An entertaining tour through the upgraded cellar included tastings of young white wines not yet ready for bottling, such as Vergelegen Semillon and Chardonnay. The estate’s most recent label, Vergelegen DNA was also introduced by resident winemaker, Andre van Rensburg. In passionately reflecting on the estate’s unique ‘terroir’ that continues to deliver superior quality harvests, he relayed fascinating snippets about the qualities of Vergelegen wines.
Lunch served at the new Stables Bistro Restaurant went down more than just a treat. A scrumptious selection of dishes inspired by executive chef Alicia Giliomee was served, accompanied by tastings of the estate’s prize winning wines.