My article on ’The Spier Revolution’ has just been published in African Travel Market and I’m so happy to be spreading the good word about Spier Wine Farm, their philosophy and gentle relationship with the world, their love of art, production of good wine and ethically sourced food, their village-style accommodation and how here, in the Cape Winelands, you are bound to find happiness.
‘So, how long has Spier been focused on sustainability’ I ask Heidi Newton-King, CEO of Leisure and HR Director on the farm. We are seated in her sunny office in one of the many historic buildings on the farm chatting as I learn about their eco-tourism philosophy and the many projects Spier is involved in. ‘Since the beginning’, she says. Referring to 1993 when Dick Enthoven and his family purchased this significant agricultural property and began a transformation that focused on long-term relationships with both the land and the people.
Spier wine farm on the outskirts of Stellenbosch is one of the oldest farms in the region. Recognised for its cultural and historical significance as well as architectural worth, it boasts no less than 21 Cape Dutch gables, more than any other property in the area. Yet the evidence of Stone Age tools discovered on the land hint of man’s presence here long before the first free burghers from the Cape Colony established a farm here in 1692.
For many of us though, Spier is a household name. A place that holds memories of long lunches and leisurely picnics enjoyed on the lawn before time spent feeding the rather oversized bass in the lake or taking a walk along the river. It’s always been accessible and welcoming, with an assortment of activities and a collection of fine wine and food that catered for every taste, preference and budget.
Yet the real Spier story is about philosophy. An ongoing evolution that has seen Spier rise to a place of feel-good excellence, which is evident in their food, wine, accommodation, art and the personal attention offered by all you meet there. The passion is tangible, infectious even as you explore the estate and all it offers; learning more about the family who own it and the dedicated team who are there to match their vision.
The four-star 153 room Spier Hotel is the first South African hotel to be awarded Fair Trade in Tourism accreditation and is recognised for pioneering responsible tourism. Fondly referred to as the village, it opened in 2010 with spacious rooms built in clusters around lush lawns and pools, connected by walkways to the reception area with its a large contemporary styled lounge with bar, fireplace, restaurant and reception. The room categories allow a choice between the garden, riverside terrace and upstairs suites. All rooms are spacious with lounge areas, beautiful finishes, comfy king-size beds and all modern amenities including spacious bathrooms with bath and shower. In keeping with the sustainability ethos, minibars are energy-efficient and showerheads water-wise.
The Hotel Restaurant and Wine Bar offer elegant a la carte dining, with only the freshest available produce on the menu. Enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail with bar snacks on the terrace, or order a light meal. The Camelot Spa overlooks the pool area and offers a variety of treatments to revitalise and enrich your experience.
Wine is ever important here and grapes have been grown on the land since the early 1700’s. Today under the watchful eye of celebrated Cellar Master Frans Smit, his winemakers Jacques Erasmus and Johan Jordaan as well as Viticulturist Johann Smit, they guide the team to winning awards. From vineyard to cellar grapes are handled with great care, picked and sorted by hand with special attention being paid to the pressing and crushing process. Their range includes the celebrated 21 Gables, Creative Block, Spier’s signature collection and the Frans K Smit flagship red.
These can be tasted under the trees or in their recently opened wine tasting room which is magnificent with its double-volume height and natural light that streams in through the glass doors, allowing views towards the Helderberg Mountains. The wine and chocolate pairing is extraordinary, that and their Method Cape Classique is a personal favourite.
Yet on this 620ha property, much of the focus remains on the land and farming methods. Working according to biodynamic principles, which aim to create a balanced farm ecosystem with minimal damage to the environment. Beyond the vineyards are pastures where Farmer Angus McIntosh raises grass-fed cattle free of hormones and antibiotics. Fresh produce is grown organically in Spier’s vegetable garden and happy hens, which are truly free, scratch around in the field, laying eggs in ‘mobile homes’ that are moved regularly, in turn offering fertiliser.
Farmer Angus’ enthusiasm is unrivalled and time with him will offer invaluable insight into farming done right. Here is a man who followed his dreams, leaving a high-end job in London to put his hand to something that mattered. If out walking you may see him come down one of the hills on his mountain bike, his chosen method for getting around. The onsite restaurants source as much food as possible from the farm.
The Restaurant EIGHT subscribes to balance, abundance, harmony and infinity as the symbol indicate. Here Chef Charl Coetzee brings his years of experience and delicate touch to the fresh produce offered on the seasonally changing menu. Eight’s décor embodies the eco approach with among others, the ceiling on the terrace lined with over 10000 individually crafted flowers made from recycled white plastic milk bottles and lit with low voltage LEDs. It’s an incredible sight.
There’s a Eight-To-Go-Deli that offers a collection of ready-to-eat organic choices to stock your pantry with, olive oil, pesto, elderflower cordial, vinegar and flavoured salts too. Picnics are seasonal and can either be put together yourself from the deli or pre-ordered. Then there is the art. Inspired by Dick Enthoven, Spier has one of the most extensive collections of contemporary South African art in the country. Artwork is displayed in the restored Cape Dutch buildings and around the Hotel, each area treated as anexhibition space displaying the work of emerging and recognised talent. The Spier Collection is curated around Spier’s focus on environmental and social responsibility and is rotated each year to give exposure to as many artists as possible, keeping the spaces fresh for visitors.
Look out for the Dying Slave by Marco Cianfanelli. One of the many works of art found around the farm. This nine-column piece consists of 225000 pieces of colourful stone used in the Byzantine mosaic style and portrays the face of a tormented man. It took ten mosaic artists five months to create and will leave you in awe of their dedication. Around the farm you will see pieces from the Creative Block Project on display and for sale. Here anybody is invited to create a work on a 18cm x 18cm blank block, the best ones are purchased for resale. The proceeds go into the art programs, namely the Artist Patronage Programme and the Spier Art Academy.
While on the farm it’s a must to enjoy some of the activities on offer. Take a Segway Tour through the vineyards, past the Protea Garden and into the farming area to learn more about the method and work being done. Segway is such a fun way to get around with longer tours and a sunset option available. There are audio walking tours available to bring the werf and history to life. See the gables; learn about the heritage or head up into the farmlands for a more extensive walk. Alternately you can book a guide from the Hotel, I did this with Wiseman and it was a triumph.
Visit the Eagle Encounters to learn how these birds of prey keep the farm healthy and balanced, allowing Spier to do pest control naturally and without the use of nasty chemicals. Eagle Encounters receives and rehabilitates birds of prey that have been injured, poisoned, abused or hand-reared. When they are fit they are released into the wild, although some hand-reared birds are kept for education purposes. It’s a fascinating tour and opportunity to get up close and personal with these precious animals. As you spend more exploring and learning about their approach to nature, it becomes evident that anything you can do Spier can do better, and is. Yet, everybody, I speak to highlights the fact that nothing works in isolation. Eco-Tourism and sustainability are about learning from each other, about dedication and commitment.
As the world becomes more industrialised, Spier becomes more determined to bring back to ground level the things that matter. They have looked at nature and recognised that there is no waste there and worked hard to mimic that. Almost succeeding. Today 95% of the waste produced on the farm is recycled on-site. All wastewater goes to their treatment site to become irrigation water. Actually, there are more than 400 water-saving devices on showers, basins and toilets. Natural light and ventilation as well as energy-efficient lighting used where possible are just some of the ways Spier gives love back to the environment.
If you opt to have your conference at Spier in one of their gorgeous venues, you could leave your leftover stationery behind to be distributed to school children from surrounding communities. Pens are made from 100% recycled newspaper and carry messages like ‘I used to be a newspaper’. Reused bottles with filtered water ensure no waste or carbon footprint and are marked ‘water does not come from a bottle’. It’s ingenious and effective, not to mention really cool.
You can offset your carbon footprint with a small donation when checking out of the hotel and explore sustainability in action with a tour of their Treepreneurs nursery. I was gifted a nurtured spekboom tree to bring home on my visit.
Spier want their visitors to leave rested and at peace, for the property to be a place of inspiration. This they achieve as more of us are lucky enough to experience the true substance of this much-loved farm and how it all fits perfectly together. As I think just this, General Manager Hotel and Leisure, Joep Schoof cycles by on one of the Qhubeka bikes available to guests and waves. That moment sums things up for me perfectly. Here is a place to learn and explore. Where you can create your own Spier memories while keeping your heart and mind focused on nature.
To learn more about Spier Wine visit their website. Physical Address. R310 Stellenbosch and they’ve just launched their Saturday Spier Werf Market.