The resumption of visits to the wine farms of the Cape Winelands by our Wine Appreciation Group after long lockdowns, unprecedented in the history of mankind, was celebrated in style at Vergelegen, surely one of the jewels in the history of this industry in the Cape. Situated at the foot of the Helderberg, overlooking the majestic peaks where wagon wheels would one day creak on their pioneering journey into the hinterland, we were swept back in time to an age of familial intrigue, agricultural industry and beautiful architecture. The names remaining from the early Dutch settlement have a romantic ring to them – Welbeloond, Welbedacht, Buitenverwachting – and Vergelegen conjures up a picture of a long, long carriage ride from the small town of Cape Town across the windswept, sandy Cape Flats to a verdant valley sheltering a magnificent Cape Dutch homestead in its embrace from the fresh sea breezes. The first vines, orchards and livestock were introduced in 1700 by Willem Adriaan van der Stel, who was shortly thereafter relieved of his position as Governor of the Cape and returned to the Netherlands due to corruption. Little changes.
Over the centuries the estate changed hands until a wealthy ‘Randlord’ bought it for his wife, who brought a gardener from England to transform it into the landmark garden it is today, with beautifully maintained rose, clivia, camellia and herb gardens, and parklands reminiscent of an English country estate – I expected to see a herd of fallow deer grazing in the shade of the mighty oaks! Five huge camphor trees stand in front of the manor house, more than 300 years old and truly magnificent to behold, while a short walk through the forest and across the gushing Lourens River stands a yellowwood that towers overhead, branching out in a tangle of trunks that make you gasp in wonder. Standing apart from the other trees is an ancient oak tree, planted from an acorn brought from Blenheim, and under this tree is a bank of plaques laid by members of the British royal family on visits to the estate – Vergelegen is favoured as the destination for many notable events.
It was a fitting choice for emergence from lockdown – impeccably maintained, knowledgeable young man presenting the wines (high end prices) and an extremely enjoyable lunch under the oak trees on a perfect day. A place to be revisited through the seasons and enjoyed at leisure.