The current owners of Vrede en Lust reflect on the last 25 years as the month of October marks an impressive anniversary.
Co-owner Dana Buys explain “I first drove past the Vrede en Lust manor house on a rainy day in mid 1996. I had sold my previous software business and planned to buy a nice little farm with great views, where my family could keep a few horses. Driving up the hill to Wolvekloof, which had been split from Vrede en Lust nearly 100 years before, ‘the place just talked to me’. The agent told me that Vrede en Lust was also for sale and we popped in to have an impromptu viewing.”
It was a bigger investment than he originally planned but an offer for Vrede en Lust was made which was accepted. There was a sudden realisation that this was not going to be a horse and view plan, so he started doing his homework. “Two months later I knew we needed a solid production unit when I also purchased Wolvekloof, returning the historic farm to its original boundaries.”
Life changing decisions
Etienne Buys, Dana’s brother and Managing Partner of Vrede en Lust recalls, “I visited the farm in 1997, when Dana was starting to renovate the Manor House, I mentioned that the farm needed some ‘attention’. He then said I should come down from Pretoria and help manage it. He thought it would be a ‘nice lifestyle change’. That was the start of a whole new adventure into the unknown.”
“Renovating and replanting a historic vineyard farm with a Degree in Contemporary African studies was daunting. The main thing was finding all the right people to work with. Luckily there are a great number of experts out there and all it takes is listening and doing” mentions Etienne.
The current offering at Vrede en Lust is vastly different to the initial plan set out 25 years ago which was to produce one estate red wine only, in small quantities. When the snowball rolls downhill it only gets bigger, which is true to how the range grew to the 23 wines produced today from 750 tonnes per harvest from two different regions.
Looking back through the years, Etienne shares a few highlights such as working with Günter Brožel, a wine legend and great man. After he interviewed Dana and Etienne to see if he would work for them, Günter did most of the work for the design and the building of the Vrede en Lust cellar. He also later helped them find Casey’s Ridge, the 90 hectare vineyard located in Elgin that supplies high quality grapes for the Vrede en Lust wine brand.
Cape-Dutch expert Johan Malherbe (from Malherbe-Rust in Paarl) renovated the old Jonkmanshuis, the Manor House and the Historic cellar over the next few years. Dana says
“We had the most amazing ‘2000’ party in the new cellar on 31 Dec 1999, 200 years after its first completion.”
More difficult than expected
Post the first harvest in 2002, it became clear that the wine industry was very different to anything they had dealt with before. Budgets were easy to do on Excel, but much harder to achieve in real life. They admit to not making the best choice in appointing the first winemaker and sales were tough going. The red-wine-only strategy was looking suspect.
By 2004 it was obvious the need to get to grips with the wine industry, Dana enrolled in a post grad degree in Wine Business run by the University of Adelaide in Australia. “South Africa was producing solid wine makers and viticulturists, but still to this day we are lagging in the field of wine business education” Dana comments.
Susan Erasmus, the second winemaker during the Buys years, receives a well-earned mention in Etienne’s highlights. Susan, then a youngster, took over in 2006 and made some great wines in her 11 years at the estate. She was also a pillar of strength and a sound board for all the major business changes that happened in those years.
A further feather in Susan’s cap is that she was also responsible for appointing and tutoring Karlin Nel, the current winemaker. Karlin started as her assistant winemaker in 2015 and took over from Susan, quickly establishing herself as a great winemaker.
This brings us to the Covid years, which must be the biggest disappointment and the largest obstacle that Vrede en Lust as a business faced according to Etienne. “We were on a fast growth track in both the wine sales and hospitality side of the business, and then to have the brakes put on so hard was not nice to see. But we were in the same position as all the other wineries and hotels, and just had to deal with it. This was only possible with hard work and dedication of the whole Vrede en Lust team, that stayed very much intact.”
The future is starting to look brighter again as we have started seeing more visitors to the estate in Simondium with hopefully an end to the pandemic.