We made our first wine in two thousand and four with friends and much hilarity. We stamped the grapes in plastic buckets on the farmhouse stoep, and then transferred the buckets to a barrel, which after standing a year, produced surprisingly nice wine.
The following year we insulated and kitted out a single garage with a small de-stemmer crusher and press, and we made two barrels of red – Pinotage and Mourvedre, both of which were good even ten years later. We also ran two day winemaking events which were very popular.
At this time we named our wines Dragonridge for the dragon-shaped mountain on the farm, and we called our individual wines after stars, planets and other features of the universe. Orion and Capella, Supernova, Galaxy and Cosmos are some examples.
The process of winemaking is really very simple. Harvested grapes are put through the de-stemmer crusher and then pumped to the press, where the juice is pressed at a low bar. It is then moved either to barrel or tank depending on the wine made. Johan’s style is to intervene as little as possible, adding nothing except minimal amounts of sulphur. This makes for organic natural wine which expresses the vineyard and winemaking conditions of the particular season.
Numerous different wines were made in that small garage over the following years. But conditions were too cramped for us there, and so in 2011, we renovated the original 1800’s farm cellar and purchased bigger equipment. The following year, for the first time, we made wine in it. We now considered ourselves to be a grown-up winery and, in celebration, expanded our portfolio to include, amongst other things, two bubblies.
By all accounts our wines are quite delicious and many have received four star status in Platters. We sell some wine from the farm and on line and through a wine shop in Riebeek Kasteel and Hermanus, and we have exported wine to the United Kingdom, Germany and America.
Given that we were not fulfilling our quota of grapes for Swartland Co-op, and since we produced only small quantities of wine, it became clear that to be financially viable we would have to further diversify our business. In 2003 we decided to renovate and build guest houses and function venues, and to this end began by re-painting the farmhouse, working on the garden and adding two en suite bathrooms. We then renovated the outhouse opposite the farm house and called the one bedroomed cottage, Owl.
In 2004, just a year later, we converted the old hoenderhok (chicken house) into a pavilion for functions including wedding receptions. Abutted by the swimming pool it has beautiful views of Dragonridge and the Joubertskloof valley.
Turing the farmhouse into a guest house meant that, after living in the spacious farm house for seven years, we had had to find somewhere else to stay whenever guests booked. During this time we slept – well, wherever we could find. This included the attic, the office, and a small wooden hut we called the art hut. The funniest occurred one night after a party in the pavilion. With nowhere to stay we sneaked back to the occupied farmhouse, and climbed into the library through the large sash window. The next morning we furtively climbed back out before anyone was up.
In 2009, we built Honey Badger, a two-bedroomed cottage with an open plan, double volume living space and two loft spaces. Building Honey Badger meant we finally had permanent place to live.
The final phase of expansion in those years came with the renovation of the old cellar into our winery. We divided up the building in half: One side was the winery and the other came to be used as a chapel for wedding ceremonies, as well as a space for yoga retreats, Buddhist ceremonies and meetings of NGO.’s. To service these new spaces we built a bathroom and a small kitchen.
Fairs, Festivals and Open Days
With the opening of the farm to guests, came all kinds of lovely events, including an Anglican Church festival, quite a few open days, two fairs and one jazz music festival. Although we made no money from these, they were thoroughly enjoyed by all.
The Nature Reserve
Alongside our expansion into hospitality was the project most dear to our hearts, namely the nature reserve. In two thousand and six, after attending a conservation meeting, where the idea of land stewardships was put forward, we approached Cape Nature Conservation to see whether they would be interested in doing something like this with us. They were very keen, and quite soon a process began to proclaim our wild land as a nature reserve, to be established jointly by ourselves, the Provincial government and Cape Nature. To begin with, together with Cape Nature we delineated the proposed area – some 270 hectares – and we then built a management plan for erosion control, alien clearing, and protection of botanical species. Eventually, in two thousand and thirteen, after lengthy delays on the part of government, the land was gazetted as the Simson Simons Nature Reserve. It was named for Diana’s father, Denis Simson, Howard’s father, Gerry Simson and Johan’s parents Jack and Ray Simons.
Although the nature formed under a tripartite agreement, lack of funding usually means that we ourselves have paid for maintenance of the reserve.