Ducks earn their keep at Vergenoegd

27 September 2016

Look no further than Vergenoegd wine estate for a lazy day of basking in the sun and tantalizing your palate, but don’t miss the duck parade. 

As you take the Baden Powell Drive exit off the N2, it is easy to miss the entrance gates adorned with white plaster ducks. From there, an equally unassuming gravel road will lead you to Vergenoegd wine estate, the gateway to the Stellenbosch Wine Route.

A sign reads “Please drive slowly. Duck parade ahead.”

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A sign at the entrance to Vergenoegd wine estate reads “Please drive slowly. Duck parade ahead”. PHOTO: Mary Lamontagne

On arrival I am greeted with rosé champagne, “pink in colour because it has been darkened with red grapes,” explains Marlize Jacobs, the resident winemaker. Jacobs studied winemaking at Elsenburg College in Stellenbosch.

In 1696, Simon van der Stel, governor of the Dutch Cape Colony, granted the farm to Pieter de Vos, who named it “Vergenoegd” which translates to “satisfaction has been achieved”.

In 1862, the estate was purchased by Johannes Gysbertus Faure whose family owned it for six generations.

One of the oldest farms in Stellenbosch changed hands in 2015 when new life was breathed into it.

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The vineyards at Vergenoegd wine estate, which is on Baden Powell Drive.  PHOTO: Saarah Survé

At Vergenoegd, you can order a picnic lunch to enjoy on the lawn (prices range from R125 to R450) or book a seat at the long harvest table (R250 pp) and share a meal, prepared by Chef Ryan Shell, with unfamiliar faces. In winter, the harvest table is moved inside the wine cellar.

I take my seat at the harvest table under the oak trees, next to two young women from Montreal. The concept of breaking bread with strangers is a fun way to meet new people. We exchange contact details before the end of the meal.

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People enjoying lunch at the harvest table at Vergenoegd wine estate. PHOTO: Mary Lamontagne

Shell, who trained at the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in Johannesburg, welcomes us and explains that we will be eating family-style. This means that all of the dishes are put onto the table so that we can serve ourselves. He also mentions that we should not miss the ducks at 3:30pm.

Shell, who previously worked at Haute Cabrière in Franschhoek, uses the produce grown in his own garden at Vergenoegd in his cooking.

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Vegetables from Chef Ryan Shell’s garden served family-style for lunch. PHOTO: Saarah Survé

He personally brings dish after dish to the table, including duck pâté and a whole fish, each served on beautiful ceramics paired with wine from the estate. Each dish is presented with pride and it is evident that the chef treats his products with the utmost respect.

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Dessert prepared by Chef Ryan Shell served family-style. PHOTO: Mary Lamontagne

“Vergenoegd”, I sit back, slip my feet out of my sandals and wiggle my toes through the dried peach pips, a clever and sustainable way to decorate the ground.

After our three-course lunch, we are invited into the Cape-Dutch manor house to choose one of the four blending experiences: coffee, tea, wine or olive oil. We are reminded once again not to be late for the ducks.

At the coffee blending experience, we are tasked with creating the perfect cuppa with coffees from Uganda and Ethiopia, presented in square silver tins. With small wooden spoons we scoop mounds of the Bugiso, Sippi Falls and Sidamo into French coffee presses and soon the strong aromas of coffee fills the room.

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Three types of coffee arranged for the coffee blending experience at Vergenoegd. PHOTO: Saarah Survé

About 30 minutes into our blending experience, we are ushered out of the manor house and onto the lawn. The distant sound of quacking grows louder until we can hardly hear each other. Puzzled searching reveals a flock of about 1 000 Indian Runner Ducks determinedly waddling from the direction of the dam. The ducks, which are domesticated, stand erect and, like penguins, cannot fly.

Herded by a man in the back and a woman in the front, almost as if they are in an invisible enclosure, moving as one unit, the ducks make their way past us, leaving a trail of small feathers in their wake.

One slightly dishevelled duck tries to make a beeline back to the dam, but jumps back into line, after his path is blocked.

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The Indian Runner Ducks parade through Vergenoegd wine estate. PHOTO: Saarah Survé

The wine estate uses the ducks to help with natural snail and pest-control in their vineyards. The estate has been refining this practice since 1984.

The ducks work on alternate days and are herded back and forth from the dam or vineyards to their enclosure in the morning and evening.

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The Indian Runner Ducks parade through Vergenoegd wine estate. PHOTO: Saarah Survé

Then back to the coffee blending. If you enjoy the blend of coffee, tea, olive oil or wine that you make, it will be packaged and personalised for you to take home. You can even re-order your blend in the future, because every custom blend is stored in the Vergenoegd library.

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Here is a custom belnd of olive oil which has been packaged and personalised . PHOTO: Saarah Survé

According to their website, every Saturday the wine estate hosts a market from 10am to 4pm. In the summer months they host outdoor movie nights under the stars.

If you still aren’t convinced that Vergenoegd is the place to spend a lazy day, for the series aficionados, the television show Black Sails was partially filmed at Vergenoegd.

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The Cape-Dutch manor house at Vergenoegd wine estate. PHOTO: Mary Lamontagne

Here is a link to Vergenoegd’s website: http://vergenoegd.co.za/

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