By 1685 world events were sending people down paths that eventually
converged at Morgenster. In October of that year King Louis XIV of France
revoked the Edict of Nantes
and deprived the Huguenots of their religious
freedom. Many were killed or imprisoned and hundreds of thousands fled to other
countries where they were welcomed for their farming and winemaking
abilities, artistic craftsmanship and technical knowledge. In that same month the Dutch East India
Company in the Netherlands decided to encourage French Huguenot refugees to
immigrate to the Cape of Good Hope and offered incentives of free passage,
land and provisions.
In 1685 too, the Commander of the
Cape, Simon van der Stel, began establishing a local winemaking industry on a
farm he had been granted by the Dutch East India Company. His son Willem
Adriaan van der Stel succeeded him as governor in 1700 and continued his
father's interest in horticulture and agriculture. With the whole country at
his disposal, Willem Adriaan chose the most beautiful, fertile and best
positioned area for himself. He persuaded an official of the Dutch East India
Company to grant him land on the slopes of the Hottentots Holland mountains. He
named his farm Vergelegen – meaning Remotely Situated - since it was a three
day ox wagon journey from Cape Town.
However his misuse of the Dutch East India Company's
staff and resources to develop Vergelegen into a prosperous farm as well as the
unfair advantage he derived from having his wagons loaded with fresh produce
waiting on the beach before anyone else whenever ships arrived, enraged the
other farmers. The bell that his slaves would ring from their lookout on a hill
to alert the farm below that ships had entered False Bay is now in the garden
of Morgenster. For these and other complaints brought against him by the
burghers, Willem Adriaan van der Stel was found guilty of corrupt practices and
the Dutch East India Company ordered him back to the Netherlands. Vergelegen
was sold and divided into four portions, one of which would become Morgenster.
1711 - 1885. Intertwined M's - Morgenster, Malan and
Jacques Malan was in his early twenties when he arrived at the Cape in
1688 in a group of other Huguenots.
His family had originally come from the valleys of Piedmont in the
north west of Italy but had later settled in the Luberon region of Provence. He set to work and became prosperous, to the
extent that within 20 years he was recorded as buying and selling farms.
On 28 May 1711 the purchase of a
property in the Hottentots Holland area was registered to him. He named his new
farm De Morgenster - Morning Star - and
farmed there for 14 years before transferring the property to his only
surviving son Daniel. Morgenster seems
to have done well under Daniel's care and by the time of his death there were
numerous outbuildings, a wine cellar and a large H-shaped house which was no
doubt necessary to accommodate his 13 children.
Morgenster then passed to
Daniel's son Jacobus who married Catharina Morkel. He was only 26 when he died
and his bereft young widow placed an intertwined MM and the date 1779 in
plaster relief on a gable of one of the outbuildings. Opinions differ. Is this merely a
commemorative monogram of Jacobus Hermanus Malan or a poignant reminder of the
marriage between Jacobus Malan and Catharina Morkel?
Catharina, owing money and with
three young children and a farm to run, remarried a year later. Her second
husband Rudolph Loubscher had considerable wealth and together they constructed
Morgenster's famed six gables. Graham Viney in his book Colonial Houses of
describes them as being "six of the most beautiful gables to be
found at the Cape. The holbol or
concavo-convex style may here be seen at its most elegant ..."
With two short exceptions totaling
eleven years, Morgenster then stayed in the hands of the Morkel family until
1885 – 1992. Destruction and restoration
caused widespread destruction of the Cape's vineyards in the
mid 1880's and the then owner, Daniel Morkel, was obliged to sell Morgenster
to his brother-in-law, Alexander van der Byl. Thereafter the farm passed to
van der Byl's nephew whose daughter subsequently sold it in 1958 to Mrs
Mrs Hawkins, known to her friends as Dinkie, was the daughter of Sir
Thomas Cullinan from whose Premier Mine the biggest diamond ever found, had
been extracted. Realising the
potential of the decayed house and outbuildings, Mrs Hawkins engaged a local
firm of architects, Bruce, Gibbons and Tomlin, to start the enormous task of
restoring Morgenster. Her daughter, Mrs Shirley Bairnsfather Cloete,
continued the work with the help of Cape Town based architect Revel Fox.
Shirley's son Pieter then took
over the farming and restoration of Morgenster until its sale in 1992. Shirley
was entitled to remain on Morgenster which she did until her death in November
2010, living and creating in her chosen medium of glass in an extended studio
which had once been the coach house.
1992. Destiny brings another
settler from Piedmont
The purchase by a new owner in 1992 saw Morgenster once again
flourishing under the potent mix of Italian and French competence and
culture. When Giulio Bertrand first
saw Morgenster he said it was love at first sight. "I have never felt so
attracted to a place like I was with Morgenster." He had been searching for a house in the
Cape Dutch style to which he could retire.
Born in Biella, an important wool
processing and textile center in North West Piedmont in Italy, Bertrand's
coming to Morgenster had astonishing echoes of Jacques Malan whose ancestors
originated in the valleys of Piedmont.
After attending university Bertrand joined the family textile business,
being the fifth generation to do so. His yarns and fabrics were sold to fashion
designers and he was recognised as one of the leaders of Italy's fashion
industry. His links with South Africa
strengthened from 1975 when he began coming to the country four times a year to
oversee his factories in the Eastern Cape.
A few years later he bought a game farm bordering on the Kruger Park.
"World class Bordeaux-styled
wine and the highest quality olive oil"
On buying Morgenster Bertrand's first step was to set about preserving
the beautiful historic buildings and restoring the manor house. He was helped
in this by interior designer Graham Viney and architect Revel Fox. One project was the careful uncovering in
the entrance hall of layers of wall painting to display five different decorative
Then he turned his attention to the hill in his back yard which
reminded him strongly of his native Piedmont. His father had gone into dairy
farming on his retirement so perhaps the idea of farming was easy to
consider. After undertaking a
systematic mapping of the farm's terroir and all its aspects, Bertrand was
reassured that this farm had the potential to produce wine of extraordinary
quality. With a lifelong philosophy of
producing only the best he refined his focus and concentrated his desire on
producing world class Bordeaux-styled wine and the highest quality olive
oil. While it is part of Italian culture
to produce fine wines and olives together the concept was an innovation in
South Africa at the time.
Bertrand set about acquiring the expertise to realise his dreams in line with his motto: "Where there is quality there is no compromise". He built a long-term partnership with the Olive Oil Research Institute of Italy from where he imports the world's most up to date olive tree cultivars and production technology. The trees are propagated in the Morgenster nursery and they, and leading production technology, are sold to other farms to advance the local olive industry. This has given South Africa a competitive edge and local olive oils are internationally acclaimed. Morgenster's Extra Virgin Olive Oil was judged "Best Blended Olive Oil in the world" L'Extravergine 2006 and the Morgenster mill was awarded "Mill of the year" L'Extravergine 2007. The Estate continues to garner coveted local and international awards.
Blessed with a superb terroir
which seamlessly blends elevation, climate, soil and cooling winds off the
nearby Atlantic Ocean, Morgenster's vineyards are planted mainly to Bordeaux
varieties and smaller quantities of Italian cultivars. From its custom designed cellar the South
African winemaking team works in consultation with Pierre Lurton of Chateau
Cheval Blanc in France. Lurton is also a director on the board of Morgenster.
Morgenster produces two award winning
Bordeaux style red blends, the flagship Morgenster and the estate's second
label, Lourens River Valley. Designed to age well, they are evaluated and
released in batches that showcase their progression, providing connoisseurs and
visitors to the Estate's tasting room with an unusual offering of several
vintages of the same label.
styled wines are also produced from imported Italian cultivars: Tosca, a "Super
Tuscan" blend of Sangiovese with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Nabucco blended
from Nebbiolo grapes and Caruso, a dry rosé made
from Sangiovese grapes.
The Estate's wines
and olive products are exported around the world. On their labels they feature
the Morning Star as depicted on the front gable of the manor house. In May 2013 Giulio Bertrand announced that the third decade of his tenure at Morgenster would include the development of a hospitality offering comprising a Fine Dining Restaurant, Luxury Cottages and a Café/Deli in a phased development starting around September 2014 to give visitors the opportunity to enjoy a superb meal and fine wines while soaking up the view of Morgenster's olive groves and vineyards in the area which had so captivated Willem Adriaan van der Stel all those years ago.