Biodiversity on De Wetshof Estate

De Wetshof is situated in the succulent Karoo and the vineyards are surrounded by the magnificent local fauna and flora found in the Robertson District. Driving into the 500ha of “veld” on De Wetshof one is overwhelmed by its great diversity of flora. This area has been a nature reserve since Danie de Wet purchased the property in 1974 in that no domestic animals have grazed on it since.

Ostriches have been reintroduced onto it and wild cats such as the Lynx are still found in the area. Specimens of the following is found in abundance:

1) Common Guarri / Culclea undulata: The berries are edible and the leaves provide good fodder. The durable wood is used for fencing and joining. It has medical uses, namely in the treatment of diarrhoea, heart disease, headaches, toothache and also used as an anaesthetic and purgative. A fine example of this tree is to be found in the middle of the Nature in Concert Pinot noir vineyard of the farm Bon Vallon, which forms part of the De Wetshof Estate. It is said that these bushes/trees have stopped reproducing because of climatic changes and this specimen is probably about 200-years-old.

2) 2.1 crassula rupestris
2.2 pelargonium trifidum
2.3 felicia filifolia
2.4 haworthia herbacea
2.5 pteronia paniculate (gombossie)
2.6 gazania krebsiana
2.7 tylecodon paniculatus (botterboom)
2.8 cuphorbia mauritanica (geelmelkbos)
2.9 wild lavender bush
2.10 boophane distichia- century plant: This large bulbous plant has a fan shaped spread of leaves, which appear some time after it has flowered. Thus only a portion of the aerial parts of the plant are exposed at any given time, enabling the plant to cope better with transpiration water loss. The spoked spherical inflorescence dries, breaks off and is tumbled along by the wind so disperses its seeds. This is an extremely toxic plant and is lethal to cattle. This is another survival strategy used by plants, as animals do not usually eat poisonous plants by choice. The Bushmen and Hottentots used the inner scales as an ingredient in making arrow poison.
2.11 bulbine mesembryanthemoides (Water kannetjies): These bulbs are dug up and eaten to quench thirst.
2.12 polhillia waltersli
2.13 carissa haematocarpa (Karoo num-num): A tough evergreen shrub, armed with double pronged spines which act as protection against browsing. It has fragrant star-shaped white flowers and edible black fruit that is a favourite among children. The common name is derived from the onomatopoeic sound of enjoyment made when eating the fruit.
2.14 elytropappus rhinocerotus (Renosterbos): These plants have tiny leaves which secrete waxy matter to help reduce transpiration. This means that they burn well, even when green, and can thus be used for fuel. Medicinally it is used as a remedy during the influenza epidemic of the 1918, and was also used as a cure for typhoid fever. Pulverised branch tips are said to relieve diarrhoea in children. Although rhino’s are no longer found in the Cape (except in reserves) it was discovered that the reason why it is called ‘renosterbos’ is because rhino’s just love this bush – hence the name.
2.15 eriocephalus africanus (Wild Rosemary): Each leaf has a velvety covering of fine hairs reducing the rate of transpiration. Rosemary oil has been distilled from the plants and an infusion of the leaves is used as a hair conditioner. The whole plant is burnt for fuel, while the woolly fruit was used as tinder in tinderboxes. Birds and mice use the ‘wool’ to line their nests.
2.16 sutherlandia frutescens (Cancer bush): With attractive scarlet flowers and inflated pods, this plant is used to clean wounds, reduce fever, relieve eye infections and chickenpox. It is also used for curing cancer from whence it derives its common name.
2.17 aloe microstigma
2.18 crassula orbiculata (Pig’s ears): The waxy layer on the leaves reduces transpiration. The leaves are used as a poultice for abscessed ears, and to remove warts.
2.19 senecia radicans (Bobbejaantoontjies)
2.20 hydnora africana (Jakkalskos): This is a parasite on the roots of geelmelkbos and other euphorbias. It has been used for tanning leather, preserving fishnets and as a remedy for throat inflammation and swollen tonsils. The fruit is edible, tasting like potato. Baboons, jackal and porcupine are partial to it and it is capable of remaining dormant under the soil in unfavourable years.

De Wetshof is situated in the Goudmyn (gold mine) area, so called because of the high prices which the ground here has traditionally fetched. Just before one crosses the ‘Red Bridge’ over the Breede River is the “Goudmynstalletjie” (goldmine stall) on the right hand side of the road. This building has a rich history. It used to be the home of a wagon builder in the early pioneering days when oxen and horses trekked through the ‘drift’ and this was a welcome stop. It later became a refreshment shop and eventually a guesthouse and gambling den. This little shop, which catered for all the needs of the Goudmyn community eventually closed down some three years ago, but Danie and Lesca intend to let it relive it’s history in the not too distant future.

Also on the De Wetshof ‘werf’ is a rondawel, which served as an outhouse for the original farmhouse, which has subsequently been demolished. Johann de Wet, Danie’s father estimates that it to be over a 100 years old and built by the first owners of Goudmyn.

When Danie de Wet decided to build a tasting room and a new cellar he looked to his roots and used the designs of early Cape architecture as created by French architect Louis Thibault. The façade of the tasting room was based on the original De Wet House in Cape Town. Now a museum, it is situated in Strand Street and is called the Koopmans-De Wet House. He also used the work of the same architect for his cellar, selecting the façade of the first Customs House in Cape Town. De Wetshof is a celebration of the works of Louis Thibault and the clean neoclassical lines provide serenity to the atmosphere of the ‘werf’.

Numerous flint stones used as tools and for lighting fires by Bushmen, have been found on the banks of the section of the Breede River that runs through De Wetshof. The famous Bushmen’s Road, between Bonnievale and McGregor, along which these nomadic people travelled, runs to the north of the Estate. The flint stone tools emanate from the McGregor area.

The Breede River, which at times is a raging mass of water and others a gentle flowing body, also attracts a myriad of bird life to the Estate. The valley resounds to the call of fish eagles, while four different types of kingfisher patrol the river, as do egrets, cormorants, spear wing geese, jackal buzzards, as well as a host of finches and Cape sparrows (mossies).
An indigenous tree-planting programme has started along the banks of the river, including Katjiepiering (Gardenia Thunbergia), the Breede River Yellowwood (Podocarpus Elongatus) – the smallest of the yellow wood trees in South Africa – and various other local thorn trees.

The story of the Tress

Danie de Wet is a born Virgo, which equates to being very organised. He likes straight lines – and grey areas are a rarity in his life. Yet, when he planted his vineyards, which were all mathematically planned to perfection there was one element, where the rules were bent. Trees. Because each has a history and a tale, they have retained their special place in the middle of the vineyards.

The old Pear Tree

This tree, which used to stand next to a dam, is one of the oldest on Goudmyn. Today this area is a vineyard called Nazareth (that’s another story) and the tree, which is exquisite when it blooms in spring, has pride of place.

The Pepper Tree

This Pepper tree, with its double stem, was originally situated next to the first Goudnym canal, which was demolished about 60 years. Today this vineyard is ready to be planted with young Chardonnay vines, but the old Pepper tree still stands in all its glory – a pleasant reminder of times long gone.

The ‘Common Guarri Tree’

This is the tree mentioned earlier under ‘Common Guarri Tree’, is surrounded by the Nature in Concert Pinot noir vineyard. This vineyard is surrounded by the succulent Karoo and when this site was identified as the most perfect site for Pinot Noir on the estate it was decided to leave this fine specimen of the Guarri tree standing. The site was identified with the aid of NASA satellite technology and epitomises De Wetshof’s philosophy where the latest technology is combined with the landmarks and customs of the past and fully incorporates nature in the equation

De Wetshof Estate