The two best ‘good news’ stories from the Western Cape are probably the V&A Waterfront and Boschendal Wine Estate. Both were sold about a decade back — the Waterfront to foreign owners who expatriated the profits but stopped all new development and Boschendal to a local BEE consortium who made their money from property development on the Estate while neglecting the farm and its national heritage.
Under new local owners, the Waterfront has been rejuvenated and the new Watershed alongside the dry dock is one of the most apt legacy projects of Cape Town’s year as World Design Capital in 2014. At Boschendal, it’s all happened much more recently since the property was sold to a foreign buyer, and the focus there has been on the farm and maximising the public attraction and benefit of the historic areas of this iconic estate.
I first got an inkling of the transformation at Boschendal when Andre Lambrechts, the farm manager, took me on a quick tour of the Estate — see Boschendal Reborn — and even the cows have happy lines. So who is driving this remarkable transformation?
Rob comes from a farm in the KZN Midlands but his professional experience lies in property investment and development — he managed an international property fund in Majorca before coming to Boschendal. There, he focused on high quality, long term investments primarily in Europe. “I’m not a hospitality expert,” he says, “but I’ve owned retail and restaurants and I know what’s good and what’s bad. I know what makes a development successful.”
One of his partners, representing family interests, wanted to buy Boschendal and asked Rob to help structure the contract. When the deal was done he asked Rob, “Would you like to see what you helped us buy?” And the allure of Boschendal started working on Rob. So in December 2013, Rob and his wife spent two nights at Rhodes Cottage and he prepared a simple, one-page business plan, which he describes as “opening the shutters.”
When Graham Johnson, Boschendal’s then MD, decided to move on, Rob’s partners in Majorca gave him leave and the business plan unfolded from there. He started at Boschendal last July. An enormous amount has been achieved in a very short time.
After eight years of promises not kept under the previous owners, the new family owners insisted that there must be delivery before talk. What Rob found was a team of people with a genuine love for the farm and the valley — some had been on the farm for 25 years and “just needed permission to think and act. It’s that team that generated the energy and there has been a buy-in into a new ethic. In the past, there was no long-term vision. Boschendal has a matriarchal role in the Valley which is starting to be realised again.”
“An exclusive experience to an inclusive audience”
One of the first things to be addressed was bringing the various components of the farm and the brand back into the Boschendal company, and maximising the farm’s cover crops because this is at the heart of what Boschendal is all about.
The Werf — the historic Manor House and the buildings around it — is the focus of the public experience and that has received a make-over. The flagship restaurant — The Werf — opens mid-March with renowned chef Christiaan Campbell at the helm. Le Pique Nique — the picnic venue that started them all — is becoming popular again and the delightful Farmshop & Deli is open every day of the week, from 8am to 9pm. This is a family-friendly destination serving breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner with tables both in the cosy restaurant and scattered under the oak trees. The Farmshop & Deli also stocks a range of products including Boschendal’s own pasture-reared Angus Beef, fresh farm bread, artisanal jams, home-made preserves and local olive oils.
The focus is on providing flavourful and nourishing farm-to-table food; celebrating the produce of Boschendal and the Franschhoek valley with menus that shift with the seasons. Much of the fresh produce is grown right on the Farm and, where possible, other ingredients are sourced from farms and small producers in the surrounding winelands. Transport is kept to a minimum: three-quarters of the ingredients are sourced within 30-kilometres of the farm.
Former labourers cottages have been converted to luxury guest accommodation, ranging from Clarence Cottage (a two-bedroomed cottage situated close to the historic werf), The Werf Cottages (adjacent to the historic werf) and The Orchard Cottages (family-friendly farm cottages with shared swimming pool and large gardens). And then there’s the historical Herbert Baker designed Rhodes Cottage which comes with its own housekeeper.
Only one new building has been built — the Olive Press, a conferencing & wedding venue, which hosted the Cape Wine Auction as its first function when R10.5 million was raised for education in the Winelands.
Rob emphasises that “there is a big obligation to community upliftment and there has to be a social impact from investment.” Projects are in the ideas stage and one focuses on honey. The Farm could encourage staff to keep backyard beehives and assist them with funding to get this going. One family might keep 10 hives but a community venture becomes a business with a reasonable scale. Boschendal could lend its brand/name for the honey produced by the community.
(A big hurrah for that! The honey sold in supermarkets by neighbouring Rhodes Food Group and many others is labelled as “Made in China”.)
Work has started on a new vegetable garden right opposite the new restaurant as part of the commitment to its quality dining experience. While the chef reckons the 4-5 kitchens on the estate will use 3–5 tonnes of fresh produce a month, there will be opportunities for farm workers to supplement the seasonal needs of the restaurants. This could see excess production being marketing under a community Boschendal brand. Maybe we’ll see that in Woolies soon?
Two new hiking trails have been developed on the mountain slopes which provide an added reason for visiting. (These will be published on CapeInfo shortly.)
Sustainable energy is another consideration but one that takes longer to implement. Solar power is planned and an Environmental Impact assessment has been done for hydroelectric power in the mountains. And there’s more to come.
Rob says that “his first 18 months will address getting the foundations right, but that it’s going to take much longer to reach the end idea.” And fine-tuning of the first steps has already started.
Rob Lundie is a real asset to the Western Cape and, if we can keep him here longer (which his kids are hoping for,) there’s little doubt that his wider impact in the region will be significant.