"At the dawning of the Cape, the swans rejoined, feeding in paradise at the foot of the Steenberg Mountains."

"At the dawning of the Cape, the swans rejoined, feeding in paradise at the foot of the Steenberg Mountains."

Steenberg, 'Mountain of Stone', has a romantic ring, but the original name was even more beautiful: it was called 'Swaaneweide' - The Feeding Place of Swans. Whether swans did indeed fly down to drink and swim in the cool clear waters of the farm, or whether the first owner, Catharina Ras, was being nostalgic about her former home in Lubeck, on the Baltic coast of Germany, is hard to tell. Catharina had probably named the farm after what she thought were swans which are not indigenous to South Africa and certainly not Constantia. It is thought that she had mistaken the spur-winged geese for swans as today you will still find a large population of these spur-winged geese at Steenberg.

Catharina Ustings Ras was one of the most daring and controversial figures ever to settle at the Cape. Life was not easy when she arrived, only ten years after Jan van Riebeeck landed, for 1662 was far from being the age of rights for women, and yet this indomitable woman had boarded a sailing ship and made the perilous journey to the furthest tip of Africa. What she found was certainly no land of milk and honey. It was a fierce, wild place with laws to match. Keel haulings, hangings, lashings and brandings were normal occurrences. This being no place for a lone widow of twenty-two, she immediately found herself a second husband, Hans Ras. He was not a particularly eligible catch; he was a soldier and free burger with a penchant for female slaves, but he had a house on the Liesbeek River, which he had bought from Jakob Kluten, founder of the famous Cloete family, whose name has dominated Constantia for more than two hundred years.

Once the wedding knot was tied, Catharina's life seemed to take on the dramatic overtones, which marked its course from that day forward. Two wagons left the ceremony, with the bride and groom in one and the guests in the other. Lit from within by good Cape wine and overcome, no doubt, by the spirit of the occasion, the drivers decided to race one another back to Rondebosch. While the guests clung fearfully to their seats, praying to Heaven with truly Protestant fervour, the wagons vied for position and as the road was rough and narrow, a collision soon occurred. Enraged at this conduct on his wedding day, the bridegroom jumped down from his seat and soon became entangled in a fight, receiving a knife thrust, which almost proved fatal - the weapon breaking in two between his ribs. He survived this incident and lived to father several children, but came to an unfortunate end when he was killed by a lion some years later. Legend has it that, like Annie Oakley, Catharina courageously fetched a gun, leaped on her horse and gave chase finally shooting the lion herself, but this may well be a case of historical embroidery!

Fate had a good deal more in store for the girl from Lubeck however, for a Hottentot murdered her next husband and his successor was trampled underfoot by an elephant. Seemingly no less endowed with energy than Henry VIII, who surprised all Europe with his impressive total of six wives, Catharina then took unto herself a fifth husband, a hardy German named Matthys Michelse.

In 1682 Catharina Michelse, also known as The Widow Ras, asked Simon van der Stel for a portion of ground at the foot of the Ou Kaapse Weg and he agreed to lease 25 morgen to her. After he became the owner of Groot Constantia in 1685, she asked him for a legal title deed and a mandate was granted to her in 1688 to "cultivate, to plough and to sow and also to possess" the farm below the stone mountain." According to Baron von Rheede tot Drankenstein, who visited the farm and was served a luncheon of "radishes and freshly baked bread and beautiful cabbages", Catharina was a fiercely independent woman, "riding bare-back like an Indian and her children resembling Brazilian cannibals!"

In 1695 Frederik Russouw bought the farm. There to witness the deed, were Henning Huising (owner of Meerlust and uncle to Adam Tas) and Hugo Goyes. Russouw, a powerful and wealthy member of the Burger Council and it was he who built the new U-shaped house in 1695. He also made the first wines at Swaaneweide.

As time passed, the Dutch East India Company decreed in 1741 that from May to August each year, Simons Bay would be the official winter port, because "the north west winds in Table Bay had been causing untold damage and loss of life." Because Swaaneweide was exactly one days' journey from Table Bay and one days' journey from Simons Bay, this meant that many travellers would be obliged to overnight at the farm. Christina Diemer (the widow of Frederik Russouw) became the recipient of a highly profitable business of supplying hospitality to travellers and provisions to the fleet. When Christina Diemer died, it was her youngest son, Nicolaas Russouw and his wife Anna Maria Rousselet who inherited the farm. He had received the farm before Christina died and made an agreement to relinquish any further claim on the estate. Nicolaas and his wife had the farm from 1765 to 1801. It was Nicolaas who had the fine new "Holbol" gable built on to the front of the original house, the only one of its kind in the Cape Peninsula.

When Nicolaas died, his son Daniel bought the farm (this was in 1802) from his mother, Maria. Due to difficult times and unfortunate circumstances, he sold it to Johannes Adriaan Louw of Fisantekraal (a brother-in-law) and Frederik Anthon Olthoff. The Deed of Sale is legally phrased and cut and dried and a letter appeared before the Master of the Supreme Court in August 1842, stating firmly that the sale to the two sons-in-law had been legal one of whom was Johannes Adriaan Louw. All Daniel Russouw's children were paid a cash share and signed acceptance of such a share. However the Russouw blood flowed in the Louw children's veins. Son of Johannes Adriaan, Nicolaas Louw's greatest passion was Steenberg. He went straight from school into farming and his three children, Andrew (architect), Jean and Nicolette inherited the property jointly when he died in 1976. Steenberg remained the property of the Louw family until 1990 when it was purchased by J.C.I (Johannesburg Consolidated Investments), and re-developed into the glorious vineyard and hotel it is today.

Graham Beck bought Steenberg Hotel and Steenberg Winery in April 2005. Steenberg Hotel has since flourished with an upmarket Spa added to the excellent facilities available for guests, including a trendy bar overlooking a large pool in the most perfect setting imaginable.

Steenberg underwent extensive soil and micro-climatic analyses before a complete replanting programme was begun. There are about 62ha under vine of which 60% is white: Sauvignon Blanc (50% of total plantings) and Semillon. The red varieties are Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz. The farm is also one of only a handful in the Cape to have invested in the red Italian variety Nebbiolo.

From an initial 2000 cases, Steenberg Vineyards now produces over 20 000 per annum, with a maximum capacity of ±70 000 cases.

Steenberg can capitalise on its uniqueness due to:

A) Macro-climate: Mild temperature, cool breeze from the sea, reliable winter rainfall, good exposition to sunlight.

B) Meso-climate: Southern-eastern slopes, variety of altitudes ranging from 60m to 160m, proximity to ocean.

C) Micro-climate: Moderate plant growth, canopy management, soil ranging from low vigour to high potential types.

D) Geographic Placement: Close to the city and harbour.

The philosophy is that the "wines are grown in the vineyard and then cared for in the winery". Special attention was therefore placed in obtaining the very best and latest known clones and matched to the correct soils and slopes.

From the analytical eye of the General Manager John Loubser, the most important ingredients to a superior wine are quality vineyards, climate and gentle human intervention to allow the grape to do what it does naturally. John's positive and sensitive passion to the wine industry has left its indelible mark on the wines of Steenberg. Working in an environment where the facilities are modern, efficient and the best in the country, allowed John the freedom to express his knowledge through the art of wine making.

A romantic at heart with hedonistic tendencies, John has created wines synonymous of the first owner of Steenberg, Catharina, who developed and worked this land, her essence and strength bearing fruit 320 years later. The wines are classical and reminiscent of the old world, complimenting fine dining while creating the perfect marriage of good food and good wine.
As John so expressively puts it: "I'm influenced by what surrounds me. Smells, flavours, colours, vistas, sounds, experiences, people - anything that tickles my imagination or my senses. The thought of a good wine and food combination makes my mouth salivate. Wine is truly one of the highs when it comes to sensory pleasures and this influences me."

JD Pretorius was appointed as wine maker at Steenberg Vineyards in June 2009. He embodies the spirit of the new generation of winemakers, and with his fresh approach and infectious enthusiasm, has already greatly contributed to the success of the 2009 harvest. He learnt his trade from accomplished winemakers such as Erica Obermeyer, as well as having spent time at Stone Street in Sonoma.

Farm manager, Johann de Swardt and his staff, tenderly care for the vines, forever sensitive to the whisperings and secrets that the vines unfold.

The icon wines of Steenberg Vineyards are Magna Carta, our white Bordeaux style blend, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon. Other wines carrying the Steenberg label are, Shiraz, Merlot, Nebbiolo and 1682 Chardonnay MCC.

In addition to being a premier wine estate, Steenberg has been developed to include an 18-hole championship golf course and residential development. The golf course, originally designed by Peter Matkovich, is in keeping with the natural environment and complements the indigenous character of the estate. The individual holes mirror the environmental diversity of the area providing a varied and unique character to the course. Great care has also been taken in the design of the clubhouse. It is intended to be complimentary to and compatible with the existing buildings on the Werf and to provide a relaxed and informal, yet functional environment for all its members.

The 210 residential erven all have direct frontage onto the fairways providing a "park-like" setting and an open vista extending significantly beyond the boundaries of the properties themselves. Design of the homes is strictly controlled and all conform to a set of architectural and urban design guidelines, which ensures that absolute care is taken in all aspects of design. Particular emphasis was placed on ensuring that the development is in keeping with the natural attributes of the valley and the architectural heritage of the historical buildings. In this way, a distinctive and consistent architectural style was designed to create a secure and private environment for the residents who now have the added benefit of easy access to the restaurant and guest accommodation, as well as the winery.

Steenberg Vineyards