My friend Louise de Waal from Green Girls in Africa visited Vergenoegd Wine Estate in Stellenbosch recently and she was kind enough to share this incredible story of sustainable farming and using 700 or so Indian Runner ducks as natural pest-control.
On my way to Stellenbosch, I passed the massively understated Vergenoegd Wine Estate entrance off Baden Powell Road countless times, but never gave it a second thought. I didn’t even realise there was a wine estate, until I was invited by Destinate for a media event in December last year. What lies at the end of an ordinary farm road is an extraordinary day out for families, couples, and groups of friends – a truly wonderful and unique experience and welcome addition to the so often “much of a muchness” Winelands destinations.
My mood for the day was set to elate, when 700 or so Indian Runner ducks met us at around 09.30 in the morning. The ducks set off en masse for the “office”, performing their daily duty of picking out snails and other unwanted bugs in the vineyards. This waddling workforce, as Vergenoegd affectionately calls their ducks, covers around a quarter of the farm, enabling them to cut down dramatically on the use of pesticides.
Indian Runner ducks are bred specifically for natural pest-control and are true champions in their field of hoovering up any bugs that happen to come in their wake. They are pretty low maintenance with just one duck-keeper during the day, who makes sure they have enough water on hot Cape summer days.
In the afternoon around 16.30 hrs, the waddling workforce goes for a well-deserved swim and sundowners on the dam, before heading back to their quarters for supper. The duck parade is definitely the highlight of a Vergenoegd visit and still puts a smile on my face.
Denzel, the Duck Whisperer, is in charge of the duck breeding pen, where the cycle of life can be witnessed up close – a fun and educational stop for kids.
Vergenoegd has a lot more to offer besides the unusual duck parade. This historical farm and homestead date back to 1696, when the farm was granted by Simon van der Stel to its first owner, Pieter de Vos, making Vergenoegd one of the oldest farms in the Cape. Since then ownership has changed hands a few times before its current Swiss owners put their grand vision for the farm into action.
The Manor House, a registered historical monument, serves as the venue for their fascinating, experiential, hands-on and most importantly fun blending experiences, and of course the more traditional wine tasting. The blending experiences cover some of the world’s most popular beverages, i.e. wine, coffee and tea, as well as olive oil blending – there must be at least one blending experience that tickles your fancy!
The olive oil blending is like being back in the science lab at school, but then more fun. Sniffing, tasting and mixing different varieties of olive oil to create your own unique blend. I had no idea there is such a range of flavours in olive oil. I was fortunate to have some real foodies among the group of bloggers, with Dax Villanueva and the information from the lady leading the olive oil blending activity, I learned more than I knew possible. You can even order a bottle of your favourite blend labelled with a customised label – mine read ‘Confused Green Girl Blend’, I wonder why…..?
Besides a more traditional wine tasting of the Vergenoegd current Classic and Runner Duck Range of red and white cultivars, we had the privilege of experiencing their Vintage Range. A unique vertical tasting of Cabernet Sauvignons dating back to 1975! The terroir and climate of the Vergenoegd Farm seems perfect for this classic cultivar, which consistently produces award-winning wines.
This quick lunchtime tasting of incredible vintage wines seems somewhat sacrilegious, as classic wines like these need to be paired with good food to be fully appreciated, something Vergenoegd is planning to offer soon. My favourite was the 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon, an absolutely amazing, full-bodied vintage with plum notes – does that sound like I really know what I am talking about?
The Food Dude experience
No wine farm visit is complete without good food, as wine tasting and blending makes one rather hungry. Chef Ryan Shell, aka the Food Dude, previously head chef at Haute Cabrière in Franschhoek, creates some culinary delights in the form of a classic picnic, including wicker basket and blanket. There is plenty of space in front of the homestead on their lawn or in the shade of the majestic oak trees to enjoy Ryan’s scrumptious picnic. All produce in your basket is locally produced and procured, organic, home-grown and/or homemade. A spread that not only makes my mouth water just thinking about it, but is a real feast for the eye too.
Their artisanal picnics come with a bottle of their Runner Duck Range of red or white wine, rustic bread, cheese and meats, fresh salad from chef’s organic herb garden, a main course in a beautiful wooden box, and a desert in a jar. For the kids there is the Duckling Delight with a surprise activity. I had the pleasure of enjoying my picnic with Kathryn Rossiter (Becoming You) and her daughter, who had lots of funs decorating her Christmas cookies.
I am so glad to have been given the opportunity to get to know and experience this little gem. The Vergenoegd team is truly inspirational. Their positive energy is refreshing, their sustainable approach towards farming is commendable, their vision to create experiential and out of the ordinary activities is remarkable, and their drive to enhance the historical features of the farm and incorporate these into the daily operations is purely exciting. It gives me hope that more wine farms will follow their lead in order for the Cape Winelands to keep their edge as an exciting and lasting tourist destination.