Lanzerac Wine Estate: a treasured Cape Winelands experience

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“The big question stands: how did it get its name, the Lanzerac? How did she come upon the name?”
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The Lanzerac Hotel is today one of South Africa’s most elegant five-star countryside establishments.

Not only is it one of the country’s most treasured sites, but it also sports a Provincial Heritage Site grading.

Dating back to 1692, when it was founded, it continues to produce wines of quality, scoring very high on the international scales for their high quality.

Lamentably, parts of the main buildings were affected by a devastating fire on Sunday 28 May 2017, but they have subsequently been magnificently restored.

The restoration project completed, the hotel opened its doors to the public on 1 July 2018.

Today, visitors and residents have much to look forward to, and to do, on this estate, visiting its elegant bars, restaurants, deli, tasting venue and chic day-spa – let alone the setting, pools, walks and elegant gardens, trees, shrubs and lawns.

Possibly its greatest feature is the incredibly well-appointed suites and rooms, providing guests with the ultimate in style and comfort. 

The above photograph (not taken by the writer) is of the Lanzerac after extensions to the building by architects Kendall and Morris between 1921 and 1925. The buildings to the right are hotel rooms today, with matching gables, and the architecture mimics the Pieke mountains behind. By these extensions, what was actually a small manor house has been substantially enlarged. (Source: Melanie Attwell, architectural historian)

The estate was originally called Schoongezicht, meaning “beautiful view” – probably that of the mountains, as well as the valley that lies below.

Its initial owner was Isaq Schrijver, who had been a sergeant in the employment of the Dutch East India Company. It was the governor of the time, Simon van der Stel, who in the late 1600s opened up the area, granting 17 hectares of land to freed slaves Manuel and Antonio of Angola, Louis Bengal and Schrijver himself, with Schrijver getting the portion where the Lanzerac is today.

Schrijver went on to marry Elizabeth van Coningshoven, who lived on the farm while Schrijver went exploring for copper. He died in 1706, and a few years later, his widow married Jacob Groenewald, and their descendants kept the estate in the family for approximately 100 years.

The Lanzerac manor house, the gable of which was completed in 1830

The farm was then purchased by Coenraad Johannes Albertyn, who sold it in 1830 to Coenraad Fick. It was Fick who set himself up as the first “lord of the manor”, responsible for building – among other buildings – the iconic gabled homestead that one sees as one enters the majestic place.

It was Mrs Elizabeth Catherina (Katherina) Johanna “Kitty” English (née Devenish, born on 13 July 1846 in Somerset East, Eastern Cape) who purchased the farm in 1920, which probably initiated the period of gracefulness that the Lanzerac enjoys today.

She had been married to Frederick Alexander English. English was born in Newlands in the Western Cape (where the well-known cricket grounds are), and made his fortune in diamond prospecting; he was a friend to Cecil John Rhodes himself, and was a diamond merchant and a founder of De Beers.

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“It was the governor of the time, Simon van der Stel, who in the late 1600s opened up the area, granting 17 hectares of land to freed slaves Manuel and Antonio of Angola, Louis Bengal and Schrijver himself, with Schrijver getting the portion where the Lanzerac is today.”
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While still in South Africa, Frederick had married Kitty Devenish, and subsequently the couple travelled to England in 1898. There, English purchased Addington Palace in Kent, which had been the summer residence to six of the archbishops of Canterbury.

A vast amount of capital was spent by English on alterations to Addington Palace, a project overseen by the renowned Scottish architect Richard Norman Shaw

Frederick English died in 1909, and Kitty subsequently returned to South Africa in 1914. In 1922, she bought the Lanzerac, although, at the time, it was called Schoongezicht.

But, this clashed with a farm of exactly the same name in Idas Valley in the Stellenbosch region, which made her decide to change it to the Lanzerac.

Under her proprietorship, she effected considerable improvements to the house and buildings, and planted a variety of grapes for wine-making, apparently numbering 21 imported varietals.

It is said that Kitty herself was involved in the growing of the grapes, and also in bottling the wine. Not only was she interested in the farming operations, but she also had an excellent eye for the appointment of the rooms of the hotel itself.

There were, however, no children from her marriage with Frederick with whom to share the estate.

When she died in 1929, her body was taken back to England to be buried alongside her husband, Frederick English, at St Mary’s Church in Addington, Kent.

To commemorate the life and work of Sir Frederick English at Addington Palace, on 1 May 2018, the estate unveiled the new empire suite named after him.

Attending the occasion was Sir Terence English (born in South Africa in 1932 and educated at Hilton College), the great-grandnephew of Sir Frederick.

Sir Terence worked as a consulting cardiothoracic surgeon to Papworth and Addenbrooke’s Hospitals in Cambridge from 1972 to 1995.

He has much appreciation for restoration projects, especially Addington Palace, which is now a Grade 2-listed Palladian-style mansion in England, thanks to its restoration by the current owners.

Kitty owned the Lanzerac for a period of nine years. In that time, she was responsible for laying the foundation stone for it to become a well-functioning winery. Alas, her time on the estate was short-lived, and she died in 1929.

The winery was then bought by builder Jacobus Tribelhorn in 1935; he had been the person responsible for the renovations when Kitty had owned the farm. So, he was well-positioned to expand her legacy as the farm’s next owner. 

There are several stately features in the Lanzerac’s architecture, but probably the most imposing one is the manor house in the Cape Dutch style, with gables completed by Coenraad Fick in 1830.

Angus Batts Buchanan subsequently purchased the estate, and under his proprietorship, several awards for the wines produced on the estate were garnered. It is said the Lanzerac wine label was made famous by him.

The farm subsequently went into the hands of the South African doyen of countryside hotels, David Rawdon, in 1958.

It was David who converted the original cellar and its surrounding buildings into the formation that they are in today.

Those of us who were students at the University of Stellenbosch in the 1970s will never forget the scrumptious cheese lunches provided in the hotel’s cellar when he owned the hotel.

David then sold the estate, and later it was purchased by Christo Wiese, the South African businessman, whose passion for expanding the wine label placed it firmly in the international arena; and today, it’s owned by a British hotel consortium.

Portrait in oil of David Rawdon, one of South Africa’s leading countryside hoteliers.

While great tributes are due to those proprietors of the Lanzerac down the ages who went before and passed on, such a tribute is also appropriate for David Duncan Rawdon (1 August 1924 – 13 August 2010).

His life was colourful and rich. After leaving the Lanzerac, he retired to Matjiesfontein in the Little Karoo, where his generous spirit and magic continued.

Here he lived with his luxuries,

where champagne was served on the stoep at the drop of a hat, where jokes and stories were recounted tirelessly, where we went for picnics in the veld in the old London double-decker bus, or escaped with him doing ‘take-offs’ down the Sutherland road in his vintage Rolls Royce – it captures a lifetime of fond memories of a man that was larger than life, and meant the world to us. (Rawdon family)

The big question stands: how did it get its name, the Lanzerac? How did she come upon the name?

One story is that Kitty decided to name the farm after the renowned wine-growing region in France. Much more romantic, however, is the story that she named it after Charles Lanzerac, a French general commanding the French Fifth Army at the outbreak of WWI – and that she had a romance with him!

Today, the estate commemorates both these figures through the naming of wines, “Le Général” and “Mrs English Chardonnay”.

The portraits of Mrs English and General Lanzerac

The Mrs English Chardonnay, highly acclaimed in South Africa with 4,5 stars in Platter’s.

The following video of the Lanzerac was taken by a guest, who visited the estate on 27 November 2018. It gives some idea of the place’s ambience:

Catch a glimpse of some of the Lanzerac’s attractions, for instance, the state-of-the-art spa:

A view onto the neighbouring countryside from the spa

The staircase in the foyer of the spa, reminiscent of the work by Italian architect Piranesi

The estate has a wine-tasting area and deli in a separate and beautifully appointed area, with a modern cellar where the wines are produced.

Here, the visitor can enjoy light meals in casual surroundings with their family. 

View some of the food and dishes on offer at the Lanzerac:

Wine-tasting must rank as one of the hotel’s biggest attractions. The following photographs will give the reader some idea of the scope and ambit of this world-class facility:

The cellar, with state-of-the-art tanks and equipment (left), and the elegant and spacious wine-tasting area (right)

One of the estate’s several innovations in wine-making is its “Aliquid Novi”.

In the ancient language of Latin, it means “something new”. It is the first-century Roman philosopher and writer, Pliny the Elder, who is credited with coining the phrase, “ex Africa semper aliquid novi”, which, translated, reads: “Always something new out of Africa”.

The cultivar pinotage, a completely newly innovated wine in the world, has its fons et origo right there in the heart of Stellenbosch’s wine-growing area.

Aliquid Novi is the pinotage from the Lanzerac cellars, produced from the unique pinotage varietal.

The vineyard for this unique pinotage is the Perold Vineyard on Mostertsdrift in Stellenbosch, where STIAS (Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies) is situated.

The idea for this institute arose when Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg enabled the research and seminar centre to be built, to promote the study of the arts and social sciences.

Today, it has become known as a “creative space for the mind” for solutions to issues facing South Africa and the African continent.

It is, therefore, appropriate that such a beautiful wine can be born from such a dynamic space. The way that the vineyards were planted is, in itself, innovative: “The 24 double rows of vines were planted in a half-moon pattern to expose the vines to different sun positions through 180 degrees. In addition, a new double-trellis system was designed for the vineyard.” The first vintage appeared in 2013, with each year limited to 1000 bottles.

Abraham Izak Perold, a South African chemist and viticulturist, made the first pinotage (according to his great-grandson, Gerhard). He crossed two varietals, namely Pinot noir and Cinsaut. He was the first professor of wine-making at the University of Stellenbosch, which has a rich history in this field.

  • For some information from one of the direct descendants of Dr Perold, read more here

Abraham Izak Perold was born in the Cape on 20 October 1880. He obtained a first-class BA degree in mathematics, physics and chemistry in 1901. Perold’s results were good enough to earn him a bursary to study overseas. He is credited with his great work in wine science and as a pioneer in wine-making in South Africa and the world.

The Craven Room, where patrons and visitors can relax, smoke cigars and enjoy a drink with friends: Dr Craven was known as South Africa’s “Mr Rugby”, having devoted his life to the game in South Africa. He lived in Stellenbosch, where he lectured at the university. Read the obituary to him here, written by prominent rugby journalist Steve Bale.

Wine-tasting, the spa and the beautiful buildings, gardens and surroundings create a special place – but, what about the fare? A rather comical expression goes like this: “You don’t sleep in a restaurant and you don’t eat in a hotel.” The Lanzerac Hotel strongly debunks this, as the menu from the elegant dining hall will show, with the excellent service delivered by the sommelier, Tinashe Mukosi.

The dining hall at the Lanzerac, beautifully appointed, spacious and majestic

In the dining hall, guests can soak up an atmosphere that’s a rare treat, enjoying wonderful company and fine dining.

Dining at its finest. My starter was the watermelon soup.

The starter menu, including cream of wild boar and cannellini beans (watermelon gazpacho)

The main course menu

My main was the salmon dish, served with fresh vegetables in season on a silver-plated entrée side dish. The edible flowers and the pickled apple sauce are perfect accompaniments to the dish. The Mrs English Chardonnay 2016 vintage – an accompaniment – was presented chilled, and has a lemony hue to it. It is beautiful on the palate, especially with the salmon that I chose.

Cellar master, Wynand Lategan, explains that the wine is from a 21-year-old single vineyard block in the Jonkershoek Valley of Stellenbosch:

Jonkershoek has a unique terroir within the greater Stellenbosch district, in that the temperature here is consistently lower than the Stellenbosch average. This results in slower ripening and, ultimately, the perfect phenolic ripeness of grapes.

Each barrel is inoculated with a different yeast strain, which provides me with different building blocks; then, I finally blend the wine before bottling, and it ensures a softer, yet multidimensional, wine.

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Here follows a specially prepared recipe for accompanying the Mrs English Chardonnay 2016, to be paired with fish.

The recipe has been written specially by the writer of this article, inspired from C Louis Leipoldt’s book of recipes (Leipoldt’s food and wine, edited by TS Emslie and PL Murray; photographs by AL Emslie; Stonewall Books, Cape Town, 2004).

Sole and mussel à la Mrs English

Take two bunches of table grapes. 

Peel each grape and take out the pips.

Steam them for 15 minutes without water (they will produce their own liquid). 

Take four fresh sole ready to cook, purchased from a local fish shop.

Take half a kilogram of fresh black mussels. Make sure they are cleaned, with the
hairy part removed.

Stew the mussels separately in cut-up slices of white onion and white wine, preferably
in excellent Chenin blanc. 

Add a blade of mace, a pinch of salt and some cut-up anchovies, and then thicken
with a little rice flour.

Cook the sole in a saucepan with butter.

Place the sole on a platter with the stewed grapes as a base; add the mussels around.

Serve with a little roasted fennel and cherry tomatoes sprinkled with cold pressed extra virgin oil
and a little sea (not table) salt.

Prepare a few very thin slices of white bread and toast very well till crispy, sprinkle a little water over them and put them in the grill to make them extra
crispy, or read here how to prepare Melba toast.

Serves four.

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The writer is grateful to the management for allowing the following photographs of the inside room spaces to be photographed and published. Thanks to Lauren Berry, the marketing manager.

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The Lanzerac is not an everyday experience. Keep it for a special occasion. 

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  • All the photographs, unless otherwise specified, are taken by the writer.

Other references:

Buro: MvH
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