5. The Early Years

It took us at least two years to become fully accustomed to living on the farm. And we were very busy. Johan was still doing some teaching at UWC, and I spent two days a week in Cape Town seeing clients and teaching. The rest of the time, we attended to the myriad of things that came up on the farm.


Towards the end of first year I began work on the garden. Using only our workers we enclosed the front garden doing away with the entrance road, and we made an entrance driveway around the back of the farm house. This was a big job which involved leveling the ground, fencing and planting grass.

We then turned our attention to fixing up the farmhouse. This was a labour of love which took two years, and involved sanding the floors, doors and window frames of nine giant rooms, painting the whole house and refurbishing the bathrooms and kitchen. We also furnished the lounge, library and TV room with sofas, chairs and tables, keeping to old style furniture of oregon or yellow wood.

Our First Plantings and the Mountain that Slid Down

In our second year we planted our first new vineyard namely the Cabernet. Two years later, we planted the Sangiovese and Shiraz, the next year Viognier, and finally Mourvedre. The Shiraz turned out to be quite an adventure. We cleared the land, ploughed to a depth of two metres and put lime into the soil. Then we sourced little stokkies (seedlings), and since it was a mountain vineyard, planted five contours. This was all in winter and it just so happened that the first weekend after we finished planting Johan went off on a botanical weekend, leaving me in charge of the farm. By Friday night the weather had turned bad with torrential rains and violent electric storms. This lasted all of the next day and all of Saturday night.

Ploughed land

On Sunday both the workers and I panicked. The ploughed land simply started sliding down the mountain. It began on the top contour, slid down to contour two, taking with it all its seedlings, and then it proceeded to slide down over the remaining contours, accumulating swathes of mud, dotted with stranded plants. Finally on Sunday afternoon the rain stopped, but the damage had been done. We managed to salvage only twenty percent of the newly planted stokkies. Ironically in all the years we have lived on the farm, we have never had such a violent and prolonged storm.

A Bizarre Mountain Outing

A rather bizarre event occurred in the first December after our move to the farm. Some farmers in the area approached us and told us that every year they assembled up our mountain on the Day of the Covenant for a small religious service and a braai. Could they come again this year, they asked. We unthinkingly agreed, and wanting to be part of the community, also accepted their invitation to join them.

The sixteenth December duly came and we all went up the mountain. They put down folding chairs and congregated in a circle. They then began their service praying to God to bless them and the Afrikaner race. Johan and I were very uncomfortable. The Day of the Covenant was a recent naming of what was once called Dingaan’s day, which commemorated the victory of five hundred boers (farmer settlers) over fifteen thousand Zulus at the Battle of Blood River. Our view of history was diametrically opposite to theirs, but we felt constrained by politeness to say nothing. Not that saying anything would have in any way changed their viewpoint. Then to make us feel more accepted, knowing we were Jewish, the pastor in his sermon spoke of how Christianity was founded on Judaism and they wouldn’t be there if not for the Jews. Needless to say, after a friendly meal we were quite glad to come back down the mountain, and we vowed not to allow a similar gathering in the future.

The Mountain Road

Another project we tackled during the early years was the upgrading of the mountain road. This was in very poor condition, with parts, especially around steep bends, that were virtually impassable. As well as our own jaunts up the mountain, Telkom used the road to reach their telecommunication tower on the top of the mountain, and so, after working ourselves on the road, but not getting far, we decided to enlist their help. It took the best part of two years but they finally laid a double track up the road most of the way to the top. This has made traveling up the mountain much easier, although a high clearance vehicle is still necessary.