Zevenwacht is one of the wine estates on the Stellenbosch wine route closest to the Southern Suburbs. Yet the easy access didn’t allay the uncertainty I had over visiting it. You see a brochure of theirs carried the bold claim the farm was ‘Exceeding All Expectations’. I have visited the farm before but, being for ‘work’, it was different this time and I wondered whether my raised expectations would be dashed or not.
The Manor House is one of the most photographed wine scenes in South Africa and certainly does provide an auspicious welcome to visitors as they view it across the dam as they drive around it to the lush densely forested farm headquarters.
Harold Johnson bought the farm in the early 90s and has invested huge sums into wine production and other facilities to attract visitors and business alike. Harold’s background was in the construction industry and he has astutely called on the expertise of various consultants since then
and, armed with all the possible information and data, has personally made every call with regard to the development and direction of the farm.
Zevenwacht covers most of a high hill which offers spectacular 360 degree views of the entire Cape Peninsula. Harold’s canny intellect has seen him replant the entire farm on a rotational basis, pulling out unsuitable vines and replacing them with varieties of grapes more compatible with the soils and slope aspects of the hill.
The proof is in the tasting though and it says much of Harold’s innate affinity for wine farming that not only has he halved the acreage under vines but is producing more grapes of a higher quality on the reduced acreage than did the whole farm when he bought it. This has resulted in Zevenwacht winning many accolades accross its large range and earning the respect of the wine industry in the process.
“Harvest is such an exciting time,” Harold’s voice conveys his enthusiasm. “We start at two in the morning and only pick the very best grapes. Anything blemished or not 100 percent perfect is left on the floor.”
But, being the canny businessman he is, Harold has developed the farm to the degree that he doesn’t need to rely on wine production to make it profitable. This, in turn, means that Harold can be as patient and indulgent with his vines as he chooses. This is a very secure position to be in which allows him to ensure that only the very best is good enough for his vines.
Of course wine-tasting is an important ingredient of Zevenwacht’s offering and the farm is open seven-days-a-week for visitors to enjoy the wines and the excellent fare produced by the Zevenwacht restaurant, housed in the historic Manor House. Visitors may also buy picnic lunches to enjoy under the trees or on the lawns. Guests may visit the farm Cheesery which produces a range of traditional farm-style cheeses.
Visitors are not limited to the estate grounds though and are welcome to hike, mountain bike and even use the farm’s 4x4 track to put their ‘pavement-hoppers’ through their wheel- spinning paces.
“We’ve held championship mountain bike events at the farm,” explains Harold, “and people are welcome to come and ride their bikes here as long as they respect the environment and look after the place.”
Harold shows us one impressive jump that ramps over a disused tin mine shaft and explains it’s one of five shafts more than 100 years old that gives the name to the farm’s Tin Mine range of blended wines. The old furnace and winch-block are still standing and Harold intends to tidy them up a bit under the supervision of his son, John, who will promote the use of the outdoor activities on the farm, as well as the care and exposure of the fynbos on the farm, a few species of which are endemic to the farm.
Whatever method visitors choose to get up the hill, on foot, by bike or in a 4x4, it is highly recommended because it is the only way they’re going to be able to see and marvel at the exceptional views of the Peninsula afforded from the top.
It is this 360° view after which Zevenwacht’s first-class single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is named. This vineyard is a small south-facing vineyard near the top of the hill where the vines derive the full benefit of the cooling seas breezes that roll in off False Bay.
Another important element of the success of Zevenwacht is the highly regarded conference facilities offered by the farm and regularly used by many of South Africa’s biggest corporations. As would be expected from Harold Johnson, the attention to detail is absolute, and everything expected by the country’s leading business owners and corporate directors is available and managed by a professional and attentive team.
Again, the views to be enjoyed from the Country Inn, in which the conference facilities are housed, and from the rooms in which the delegates stay, are awe inspiring and it is no wonder that so many companies keep coming back to Zevenwacht for their seminars.
Another vital aspect of Zevenwacht that needs mentioning are the two function halls which can be used for product launches, conferences and weddings. Zevenwacht offers a truly romantic setting for couples to enjoy a most memorable wedding.
Restored workers’ Cottages and a Chalet high in the vineyards provide more accommodation for conference delegates and wedding guests or anyone looking for a restful and inspiring place to spend a few quiet days.
Unfortunately, Zevenwacht lost the luxurious Mangwanani Spa to a massive fire in 2009. “The thatched roof went up in a bonfire of flames,” explains Harold. “And there was nothing anyone could do but watch it burn.”
Consequently, the entire spa is being rebuilt and upgraded to offer an even higher standard of luxury and pampering than it did before. “We hope to get it up and open towards the end of the year,” says Harold, but adds, “Depending on the weather!”
The rationalisation of the vineyards has meant there is land to spare on the farm and so Harold has built two walled estates, one residential and the other a retirement village with its own frail-care centre about to come onto the market. Both offer unbelievably beautiful views of Table Mountain and are within easy commuting distance of Cape Town.
A rather surprising and unexpected facility to be found on Zevenwacht is the Chef School where prospective chefs can qualify in three six-month courses.
The wide range of activities and facilities offered at Zevenwacht and its close proximity to Cape Town make it an easily accessible, fun venue for the whole family for a day break or even a romantic weekend away from the bustle. Although you may simply arrive at Zevenwacht at any time you like, it is advisable to phone and book in advance and to avoid disappointment.
Finally, although he may not be comfortable with this paragraph, and casual visitors are unlikely to meet him, it is important to note what a high-quality human being Harold Johnson is. His candour, honesty and passion for wine, his farm and people is a revelation and his straight-down-the-line, call-it-as-it-is manner is refreshingly welcome in an industry that can, sometimes, take itself way too seriously. You can tell a lot about someone by how they interact with subordinates and not only does Harold know every person on his farm by name, they all react to him in the same respectful and courteous but humour-tinged way that reveals the affection with which they all hold him.
I’m happy to say, Zevenwacht certainly exceeded my expectations and I will definitely be going back again to enjoy some personal time there. I am confident they will meet your expectations too!