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Our Heartland

Home is where the heart is and our heart lies nestled in the Tulbagh Valley, at the foot of the embracing Witzenberg Mountains. In the cold winter months, the tall peaks are frosted in white snow as the fertile valley eagerly awaits spring and the icy, crystal clear streams from the mountain tops it brings with it. This is what inspires our Pure Country Wines.

Drostdy Hof - Our Heartland

The Manor House

History

Over three hundred years ago, a few fortunate pioneers stumbled on a truly extraordinary landscape. Three magnificent peaks, known as the Witzenberg mountain range, framed a picture-perfect country setting: a lush fertile valley fed by three streams carrying pure water from the snow-filled winter peaks. It was the ideal location on which to create a home that was built to last.

But with this beauty came the force of Mother Nature, which over the years unleashed two fires, an earthquakes and a devastating storm – defining moments that the Drostdy Cellar and Home withstood. It was this unrivalled setting; the majestic homestead and Sir Meiring and Lady M’s motivating Power of Two, that gave rise to Drostdy-Hof’s range of pure country wines since 1804.

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The Drostdy-Hof Cellar and Home

The stately Drostdy-Hof Cellar and Home is not only the home of Drostdy-Hof Wines; it is the inspiration behind our wine ranges, from the legendary characters who once roamed its hallways, to the chandelier that graces the exquisite dining hall.

The home was founded on impeccable craftsmanship, designed by renowned architect Louis Michel Thibault. Over 200 years later, we honour this skill with our Pure Country Wines.

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Cookies and Courtrooms

It’s hard to imagine that the generous and gracious proportions of the Drostdy Cellar and Home were originally intended as the magistrate’s court for the landdrost. Completed in 1806, the structure was designed by renowned French architect Louis Michel Thibault; who was at first chastised for exceeding his budget but later generously rewarded for this example of neoclassical genius.

The largest room in the house was where the landdrost, or judge, heard the cases brought against the accused. Positioned immediately below this courtroom was the jail, where the prisoners awaiting trial were held, then in 1920 became Ernest Nellmapius’ study. Today one can taste Drostdy-Hof’s country inspired wines in this space, which is arguably a much more enjoyable pastime for this underground chamber.

Records show that the Oude Drostdy, as it was known back then, was a fairly sedate legal outpost. In fact, when the British sent an expedition to retake the Cape in 1806 Governor Janssens wrote to the resident landdros ordering that provisions of biscuits should be at the ready – for use of the Dutch troops should the latter have to fall back before the enemy. The letters on the subject are still in existence to this day.

Luckily for us, history had other plans in mind for this outlying courthouse. And in fact, the history of the Drostdy is closely interwoven with that of Tulbagh. In 1822 gale force winds and torrential rain swept through the valley. It caused devastating damage to the courthouse. This freak of nature served as the perfect excuse for the Governor of the Cape at the time, Lord Charles Somerset, to move the seat of Government from Tulbagh to Worcester. His official reason stated that the necessary repairs to the Oude Drostdy were simply too costly, but many suspect that he grossly exaggerated the storm damage and it was really his love of horses, hunting and his self-serving nature that saw him move the courthouse to the equestrian-rich plains of Worcester.

Tulbagh’s fate was further cemented in 1853 when road engineer Andrew Bain built Bain’s Kloof pass, which provided the neighbouring towns of Wellington and Ceres with a transport route to promote trade with the thriving city of Cape Town. And while some feel that Tulbagh was cheated out of a more prosperous future, we for one love that the picturesque pastoral village has remained relatively unspoilt. After all, it has given rise to a range of characterful wines inspired by the country.

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Olive and the Meerkats

The famed combined energy of Sir Meiring Beck and Lady M transformed Drostdy-Hof from a neglected building slated for demolition into a home alive with laughter and hospitality. Under their influence, this homestead fast became a pulse of life that invigorated not just Tulbagh’s social circles but those farther afield too.

A friend of Sir Meiring Beck’s once wrote, “As the flowers bring beauty and the colour of life to the lonely valleys of Tulbagh, so the presence of Sir Meiring Beck and his family had brought back kindly hospitality to the Old Drostdy. Every weekend brought its round of visitors.”

One such guest to this lively home was the renowned South African authoress, Olive Schreiner. This queen of the quill used to travel with a cage of Meerkats as her companions. And so, when she visited the Beck’s, her small mammalian friends came with her. Much to the delight of the younger members of the house.

Story has it that one afternoon, while Sir Beck was holding court with his raconteur’s gift of storytelling on the front veranda, the wild Meerkats were let loose indoors. After much shrieking and delighted screams, the creatures were eventually rehoused and life could return to normal once again.

Life in the country was certainly never dull. A sentiment that Drostdy-Hof has echoed with the creation of a range of wines inspired by the country.

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A Lifelong Melody

Sir Meiring Beck was many things: a senator, a knight, a doctor, a husband, a historian and a father. But his love of music was a life-long theme in his life.

After learning to play several musical instruments as a child, Johannes Henricus Meiring Beck went on to study medicine abroad. And while there he became the leading violinist of the Edinburgh student orchestra and secretary of the music society. This man of culture and keen intelligence also fell under the spell of Wagner during his travels to Berlin and Vienna.

His love of this aural art form ran so deep that he persuaded the Royal College of Music, London to send regular examiners to his South African homeland where he was instrumental in helping to establish a formal examination system. But nothing gave Beck more delight than to entertain a fellow musician at his impressive Drostdy Cellar and Home in Tulbagh. It was not uncommon to find a gifted pianist spending a day or two at the farm. And if the nights were warm, the members of the family and their guests would be scattered about the stoep and the 15 wide steps leading down to the lawn. The huge doubled doors leading from one lofty reception room to another would be thrown wide open. The keys of the grand piano in the drawing room would seldom rest. And through it all Beck would stride up and down the flagged hall, his face lit up with enthusiasm. Then he would seat himself at the piano and improvise according to his mood, sweet plaintive strains would reach the listeners outside, an enlivening march, or a tuneful waltz. Beck’s improvisations were wonderful: he would resort to the piano in times of sorrow or joy, as if he would seek sympathy from the instrument and his spontaneous improvised music would be the reflection on his feelings. And while not many of his compositions became household melodies, DC Kolbe’s “S.A.C” which Beck set to music in 1887, did however become popular as the song of the University of Cape Town, and still is.

The daughters of the house inherited their father’s gift for music, they played various instruments so the old house often resounded to their beautiful trios, some of which had been composed specially for them by Beck himself.

So it is in honour of this charismatic, charming and intelligent man’s love for music that you will find an extensive collection of gramophones at the Drostdy Cellar and Home. And if you close your eyes and let your mind drift for just a moment, you can almost hear echoes of dancing and laughter that took place well into the night.

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The Legend Lives On

While Senator Meiring Beck, then Minister in the Botha Cabinet, sold the Drostdy Cellar and Home in 1919 his legacy would live on at the homestead for another three decades.

Frieda Beck, the youngest of his three daughters, married the young and handsome Ernest Nellmapius of Johannesburg in 1913. The ceremony was said to be breathtaking and the bride and her father walked down the aisle to the accompaniment of a wedding march composed by Sir Beck himself.

Six years later Ernest took over the Drostdy Cellar and Home from his father in law. Nellmapius had great success in the total development of the estate as an economically viable operation. He also had interests that ranged beyond the Tulbagh valley. His father, like that of his young bride’s was also a well-connected man involved in politics. Nellmapius Snr. was a member of President Kruger’s inner circle of friends and counselors. He was one of the early pioneers in attempting to produce steel. But perhaps even more memorably, Ernest was known in Tulbagh for driving in an open coach drawn by four zebras.

Sadly, a second disaster ravaged the Drostdy Cellar and Home in 1934. Only the walls, loggia and front gable with the Tulbagh crest remained undamaged – the rest was lost. The government at the time, still under pressure from the depression, could not contribute to repairs. And so with the advice and support of the SA National Institute of Preservation of Antiques, Nellmapius repaired the magnificent homestead to its former glory at his own expense.

But possibly the most important feature of this time was that the young couple continued to act in the same benevolent vein as Sir Beck and Lady M. They did much to contribute to the overall wellbeing and historical preservation of both the Drostdy Cellar and Home and that of Tulbagh. So entrenched were they in the social and political fabric of the town, that they received a letter of gratitude from Tulbagh in 1947. The letter is on display in the Drostdy Cellar and Home. It’s a legacy you can taste in every drop of Drostdy-Hof wines.

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A Storm, A Fire And An Earthquake – And Still Standing Strong

Worthy of its original purpose as courthouse, the Drostdy Cellar and Home was built squarely on the spur of the Witzenberg Mountain.

It was a magnificent building with yellowwood beams from the forests of Swellendam and floored with Batavian tiles. The impressive loggia and arched veranda gave support to a fine gable adorned with Governor Ryk Tulbagh’s coat-of-arms. A man considered to be one of the best Governors the Cape ever had.

And while the house survived a radical storm in 1822 it almost didn’t survive neglect. After it was abandoned as a courtroom, Lord Charles Somerset sold it into private hands to serve as a farmhouse. As the decades passed, the home was neglected to the point that 1898 its owner, Evert Johannes du Toit viewed the mansion as a white elephant and had plans to either tear the house down or to turn the large hall into a wagon house and the rooms into stables.

But luckily fate intervened and Sir Meiring Beck and Lady M came to the rescue. When they went to inspect the property, the notorious Phylloxera virus had ravaged the vineyards and the stately home had fallen into a state of disrepair including the gable and coat of arms. Yet despite the obvious flaws the Beck’s saw its potential and they lovingly restored it into a magnificent home – fit for distinguished guests and friends. Sir Meiring Beck, after some trouble, was even able to uncover the coat of arm of Governor Tulbagh in Holland and had it reproduced in moulding to stand guard over the front entrance once more.

Sir Meiring Beck sold the property to his daughter and son-in-law in 1919. However, it would seem that Mother Nature didn't fully appreciate the family’s enduring love for the countryside. And in 1934 the elements unleashed a second disaster on the Drostdy Cellar and Home: a fiery inferno destroyed the entire thatched roof, the wooden beams and ceilings and much of the furniture. The tragedy made headline news: It was not only a loss to the Becks, but to the country as a whole. Nowhere else, outside of a museum, could one expect to find such a finely curated collection of valuable antiques and ceramics.

One would imagine that that would be that. Yet in 1969, a mere three days after the homestead was declared a National Monument, the silence of a calm September evening was shattered shortly after 11pm by a series of “explosions” and people rushed from their houses amid falling plaster and broken glass. The Tulbagh valley was rocked by the worst earthquake in South Africa’s history, measuring 6.9 on the Richter Scale and leaving 11 dead. Not to mention extensive damage to property - including the Drostdy Cellar and Home. But in 1974, the home was resurrected once again and the National Monuments Council restored the building to its original graceful dignity. Preserving of one of South Africa’s key landmarks and the home of pure country Drostdy-Hof wines.

Interestingly enough 15 things have remained constant during the Drostdy Cellar and Home’s turbulent past. Its 15 steps, which connect the grand home to its true inspiration – the pure country at its feet.

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Drostdy Hof - The Manor House
 

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Visit Us

Enjoy a day in the coutryside at De Oude Drostdy. Taste your way through our Pure Country Wines by romantic candlelight in De Oude Drostdy’s cellar or sit back and enjoy your favourite Drostdy-Hof Wine on the veranda or in the beautiful gardens. Our home is also a museum, so while you’re here, take a stroll through the history of the Tulbagh Valley.

De Oude Drostdy Visiting Hours

Mon-Fri: 10am-5pm | Sat: 10am-2pm | Sun: closed | Public holidays: 10am-2pm

Wine tasting: R20 pp includes visit to the Museum | Museum visit: R10 pp

Contact De Drostdy Manor

+27 (0) 23 2300 203 | info@drostdy.co.za

Tulbagh Tourism

+27 (0) 23 2301 348 | www.tulbaghtourism.org.za

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Distell Head Office

Aan-de-Wagen Road, Stellenbosch, 7600
PO Box 184, Stellenbosch, 7599
Tel: +27(0)21-809 7000
Fax: +27(0)21-886 4611
Email: info@distell.co.za

Brand Home Information

+27 (0) 23 2300 203 | info@drostdywines.co.za

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