1. Beginnings

The farm saga began one Saturday afternoon in our small Observatory house. It was a warm lazy day and Johan and I were sitting in bed surrounded by newspapers.

The phone rang. It was the excited voice of our friend Jinx. “Guess what?” she exclaimed, ”Shilo has gotten a scholarship to the architectural school in Venice.” Shilo was Jinx’s only child, and Jinx, a ceramicist and single mom, lived and worked from her Observatory house near us. Home circumstances were financially stretched, and in high school Shilo decided that come what may she was going to transcend her circumstances and follow her dreams. And her dream was to study architecture in Venice, Italy. First step was to gain entrance to one of the world’s international schools. She was successful, and at the age of seventeen, with her dreams in her pocket, she left South Africa to study for a year at the international school in Northern Italy. Once there she worked hard and did very well, so that it was just another step to a full scholarship at the architectural school in Venice.

Johan and I, both in our early forties, sitting in our large untidy bed in the middle of the busy city, mulled over her success. “You know something,” I said. “If Shilo can follow her dreams why cant we?” But what are our dreams? We looked at each other and then spent the next hour talking about what we wanted for our lives, at first only half seriously, but later, more ardently. For both of us the dream was to move to the country. For Johan it was to have vineyards and to make wine, for me it was to keep some farm animals for pleasure and to be somewhere wild like a nature reserve.

This all seemed a tall order. Even if we could find such a place, could we do it logistically? Firstly could we extricate ourselves from our city lives? Yes, with a push, we could. Johan was coming to the end of his teaching contract in the Botany Department at UWC (University of the Western Cape), and I was teaching in the Community Development Department at the UCT (University of Cape Town), as well as seeing psychotherapy clients part-time. If we moved out into the country I could slowly decrease my Cape Town working hours and start a practice out on the farm. One stumbling block was the fact that our daughter Ruth was about to go into matric at a Cape Town high school. We would have to drive her in to school for the next year. All this meant we couldn’t be further than an hour away from Cape Town.

Now came the question of finances. How could we financially manage it? We estimated a farm would cost about two and a half million rand. We each had a house to sell, but with both houses mortgaged this wouldn’t go that far. We would need to rope in other people – people who had some spare money and with whom we could imagine sharing our dream. The first person to come to mind was my cousin Howard and his wife Ingrid, living in Sweden. The second was our friend Shiraz from Zambia? And we would perhaps need a third. We went through a few possibilities but couldn’t think of anyone who fit the picture.

The following Monday we contacted both Howard and Shiraz and found that they were both excited by the idea. Shiraz immediately wanted to bring his friend Marc from California on board. He contacted him that day and Marc, a gem expert who made frequent trips to South Africa, was definitely interested. There was our third potential buyer.

And so that same week we drew a circle on the map showing where we might look for a farm and we began contacting agents. Over the next two months we visited a number of farms, but none felt right. One was in quite a built up area, another was too small, and another had a noisy highway along its boundary. A fourth was just too far away and a fifth smelt strongly of the pig farm next door. But finally farm number six sounded possible, and from that moment onwards, things just unfolded almost as if in a dream.

The farm wasn’t yet advertised but the agent knew the farmer personally. It was located just outside Malmesbury about seventy kilometers from Cape Town, and it had twenty-eight hectares of existent vineyards, and could one believe it, two hundred and seventy hectares of wild mountain land. We went out to the farm one Thursday morning. I still remember driving down the entrance road with a big beautiful Victorian farmhouse at its end, surrounded by dry-land vineyards. All of this nestled at the end of a valley overlooked by two granite mountains. It was exquisite. We first spent an hour with Basie Loubser, the farmer, and his wife Aida, talking about the farm, and then the farmer took us up the mountain in his bakkie (pickup) to fetch king proteas, which grew unchecked on the mountain top. I shall never forget that journey: Johan and I stood up on the back of the bakkie as it climbed the mountain, the wind in our hair the views spectacular. We wanted to pinch ourselves and we giggled uncontrollably. This was far far beyond our dreams.

Three months later we purchased Weltevrede farm. Three hundred and eighteen hectares overall with twenty-eight hectares under vine and two hundred and seventy hectares of wild land. The latter was a mix of fynbos strandveld and renosterbos and was home to, amongst others, leopard, different kinds of buck, caracal, cape fox and baboons. The farm was sold at three point two million rand with a quota for three hundred tonnes of grapes deliverable at harvest to the Co-operative Swartland Cellar. And we could take occupation six months later.