FOUNDED ON 1 FEBRUARY 1700
When Willem Adriaan succeeded his father, Simon van der Stel, as governor of the Cape in 1700, it didn’t take long before he claimed a modest 30,000 hectare piece of land for himself just as his father had done in his time at Constantia.
It took three days by ox-wagon to reach Willem Adriaan’s farm on the slopes of the Hottentots Holland mountain range overlooking the Atlantic Ocean; hence its name ‘Vergelegen’, meaning ‘situated far away’
When, in November 1705, Reverend Francois Valentijn visited Vergelegen he uttered the now well-known words: “I SAW THIS ESTATE WITH EXCEPTIONAL PLEASURE, SINCE EVERYTHING WAS LAID OUT WONDERFULLY FINELY.”
Six years after he started planting vines, Willem Adriaan had half a million vine stocks. He laid out fruit orchards and orange groves, planted camphor and oak trees, and established eighteen cattle stations with 1000 cattle and 1800 sheep. Willem Adriaan also built reservoirs and dug irrigation canals. He built himself a beautiful Cape Dutch homestead, added a corn mill and many other subsidiary buildings.
The younger van der Stel was a man of divergent interests, but his enthusiasm to turn this barren land into an agricultural paradise got the better of him and after only six years in office, Willem Adriaan was found guilty of corrupt practices and was ordered to return to the Netherlands in October 1706. Nevertheless, Willem Adriaan was considered a genius for his knowledge of farming and his visionary mind contributed greatly to the agricultural development of the Cape.
Three years later the Estate was sold and divided into 4 separate farms: Vergelegen, Lourensford, Morgenster and Cloetenburg.
From that time, Vergelegen passed through a succession of owners until 1798, when the Theunissen family took ownership of the Estate. Under their care, which lasted for about a century, the vineyards flourished.
Sir Lionel Phillips purchased the property for his wife, Lady Florence Phillips, who transformed the dilapidated Estate into a floral and cultural treasure trove
The Phillips’ spent vast sums of money on the restoration and upgrade of the Estate. Sir Lionel Phillips was known as a ‘Randlord,’ making his millions on the diamond fields of Kimberley and the gold mines of the Witwatersrand. He also served as chairman of the Johannesburg Chamber of Mines for several years.
Dams were built, roads constructed and the old footbridge was replaced by a structure wide enough to accommodate motor traffic.
Lady Phillips removed all the vineyards and practised mixed agriculture. She brought her gardener, Hanson,over from England to plant shrubs, trees and herbaceous borders. With the help of architect, C. Percy Walgate, she restored the historic homestead and converted the old winery into a magnificent library to house Sir Lionel Phillips’ collection of books.
Lady Phillips did not restrict her activities to creating a beautiful home for her family; she also became intimately involved in promoting local culture and handicrafts. She was a great benefactor to young artists and opened her newly restored home to people from all walks of life.
Many famous and influential guests, as well as struggling artists, enjoyed her hospitality. Gwelo Goodman, Francis Brett-Young and Irma Stern were among her proteges. When she died at Vergelegen in 1940, at the age of 77, Lady Phillips left behind a legacy of great beauty to be enjoyed by all.
After the deaths of Sir Lionel and Lady Phillips, Vergelegen and its contents were sold by auction to the Barlow Family in June 1941.
Cynthia Barlow was as devoted to Vergelegen as Lady Phillips had been. She was able to purchase many of the beautiful pieces of furniture and works of art collected by Lady Phillips.
To this collection she added her own considerable treasures and in so doing the tradition of Vergelegen was maintained.
The Barlows resumed farming operations on Vergelegen and started a Jersey cattle herd, which became one of the largest and best in South Africa. They also planted extensive peach orchards and replanted vines on a small scale.
Their son, Tom, took over the running of the farm in 1966 until 1987.
Anglo American purchased the Estate in October 1987.
Among the many projects undertaken on the Estate by Anglo American was an extensive programme of clearing invasive alien vegetation, land rehabilitation and restoration of the Estate’s historic core. The vineyards were re-established following intensive climatic and soil tests.
The first meeting of the caucus of the ANC took place in the seclusion of Vergelegen before it was opened to the public, with amongst others, Nelson Mandela and Thabo M’Beki attending.
A detailed master plan was drawn up for the development of the farm and in 1992, an impressive, multi-leveled, sunken hilltop winery was built and opened by Baron Eric de Rothschild, owner of Château Lafite (Bordeaux) in France. Today, Vergelegen competes with the top 100 wines of the world and positions itself among the leading conservers of Cape cultural heritage.
Throughout its history and especially during the last two decades, heads of state and celebrities of international renown have been visiting Vergelegen.
With the wives of the Archbishops’ of the Anglican Communion.
Anglo American Corporation hosted a private luncheon for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Phillip during a State visit to South Africa.
‘Thank you’ dinner, following exhibition tennis matches to mark the launch of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, attended by President Nelson Mandela and including Boris Bekker, Andre Agassi and Brooke Shields.
State Banquet in honour of United States President Bill Clinton and Mrs Hilary Clinton, hosted by President Nelson Mandela and Ms Graça Machel.
Repeat visit to Vergelegen.
Hosted by Mr and Mrs Nelson Mandela for “46664” Concert VIP guests – including Bono, Annie Lennox, Beyoncé Knowles, The Corrs and Oprah Winfrey amongst others
The Elton John Cape Town Ball to benefit the Elton John Aids Foundation. The event was attended by 500 guests, amongst them Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and South African and international celebrities.
Private picnic and wine tasting.
Hosted to an informal tour and tasting.
Homestead dinner hosted by Ms Cynthia Carroll.
VIP cocktail reception in the Octagonal Garden hosted by Godfrey Gomwe on behalf of Anglo American and Dame Nicola Brewer on behalf of the British High Commission.
Three decades of visionary collaboration between Anglo American, and many of the country’s leading heritage experts, culminated in Vergelegen being added to the Western Cape’s list of provincial heritage sites.
Today, this most prestigious and awarded wine estate offers its 100 000 annual visitors a unique combination of heritage, environment and hospitality, while standing at the forefront of South Africa’s recent wine renaissance.