Walk the Spier Farm
Welcome to this audio tour of Spier. This is one of the oldest wine farms in South Africa — its recorded history dates back to 1692. I'm Mariota Enthoven, a member of the family that bought Spier in 1993. I've been living with my husband, Angus McIntosh, and three children here since 2007. Let's start.
If the hotel's entrance is behind you, turn right and walk along the walkway, keeping the building on your right. As you head off, I'll explain how this works. VoiceMap uses your location to play tracks automatically. You can put your phone away, and just enjoy the sights while you listen. There’ll be silence in some places, but just keep walking unless I say otherwise. If you think you might be lost, you can take a quick look at the map on your screen to make sure you're on the right track. Over the next hour, I'll be showing you the many facets of Spier: from art and wines to hospitality and heritage.
The hotel and art collection
Veer to your right, along the path towards the tall mosaic columns. I'm sure you've noticed all the art in the hotel. These pieces, along with the others exhibited throughout the farm, are by both established and emerging artists. They form part of Spier's art collection, one of the most extensive collections of contemporary South African art in the country. I'll show you some more shortly.
Between the columns
Walk between the columns just ahead, and then carry on straight along the walkway.
Look back at The Dying Slave
Stop for a moment and look behind you. Can you see how the nine columns match up to form an image? This is "The Dying Slave" by Marco Cianfanelli. He's renowned for his sculpture of Nelson Mandela in KwaZulu-Natal. This image is based on Michaelangelo’s image of a dying slave – a male figure in the ecstatic throes of dying. It took 10 artists five months to cut the artwork's 225,000 pieces of mosaic by hand.Now turn around, and carry on walking.
Spier doesn't just commission or buy art to grace its buildings and public spaces: we also support the arts community in various ways.
The Creative Block initiative invites artists to produce work on small square blocks. The best works are purchased immediately from the artist. This is an important revenue stream for them, and it allows many of them to be full-time artists.
There are Creative Blocks for sale at our Tasting Room and Eight restaurant. I'll point out these locations later. You can choose a number of blocks and hang them together, building an artwork that's greater than the sum of its parts. Because of the synergy between this process and the art of blending wine, we named our blended wine range after the project.
To your right are Spier's conferencing facilities which host conferences, seminars, launches and exhibitions.
We call our approach Conscious Conferencing. Spier recycles 97% of solid waste, most organic waste and 100% of waste water. We provide ethically sourced food to delegates, and leftover stationery is distributed to local schoolchildren who need it. We use natural light and ventilation, and energy-efficient lighting wherever possible.
To inspire people to live and work more sustainably, we also offer delegates tours of various initiatives both at Spier and nearby.
Veer right now on the brick path. On your right is the Old Wine Cellar. It was built in 1767 by Albertus J. Myburgh. The building is the oldest wine cellar in South Africa. Today it is used for events. Pass the cellar, and then turn left, so that you're walking towards the big oak tree on the lawn.
You’re now approaching the Werf. It's our farmyard; the heart of Spier. It was meticulously restored in 2014. The space is still evolving as we reconnect with our roots, inspired by how things were done historically – but in a way that’s relevant to life now. The Werf now hosts events, with wine, artisanal food and art. Just keep walking past it when you're ready
Stop here and look around
Just before you reach the grass stop for a little bit. Ahead of you is a gigantic oak tree. We don’t know how old it is, but experts believe it could’ve been planted soon after the farm was established – that’s more than 300 years ago!
The building to your right is the Manor House, built in 1822. Ahead, to your right, is a white painted bell tower. That's where the slave bell was erected, in 1825.
OK, now turn left and walk along the brick path. On your left is the Jonkershuis. This first part of it was built in 1817; the other half was built in 1778.
Right to the veggie garden
At the end of this walkway, take a right, keeping on the brick path.
You've probably noticed the beautiful gables on all the buildings surrounding you. Spier has 21 – more than any other wine farm in the Cape. If you’d like to find out more about them, listen to our Gables audio tour. It's narrated by a fictional character named Sannie de Goede, a slave woman on the eve of her freedom in 1836. The tour begins at our Tasting Room; I’ll point that out when we go past there later.
The Food Garden
Welcome to our food garden. Step inside, and head for the fountain in the middle. Stop when you reach it, and take a look at the herbs, vegetables and fruit trees that surround you. Each of the roughly 75 different species here are grown according to bio-dynamic principles: we don't use any pesticides or artificial fertilizer.
Farmer John Turner puts different species next to each other – like carrots and beans, or cabbage and celery. This is called companion planting. It contributes to healthy soil, and attracts ladybirds, praying mantis, spiders and birds that kill the insects which eat the plants.
The fresh produce grown here supplies the menu of Eight restaurant, and the Spier Hotel.
Once you're done looking around, you can carry on straight out of the garden.
On from the garden
Once you've gone through the big gates, turn right and carry on walking, onto the lawn.
Crossing the Werf
The building on your left is the Old Kitchen, which dates back to 1812. Ahead of you, just a little bit to the right, is the Cowshed, built in 1773.
Carry on walking straight across the grass; I'll meet you on the other side.
The left of Eight
When you reach the end of the lawn, turn left onto the pathway. As you turn, our farm-to-table restaurant, Eight, will be on your right. If you're feeling peckish, why not pop in? Chef Charl Coetzee uses as many ingredients as possible from the farm, and trusted nearby farmers, to cook up delicious, seasonal farm-style food. Otherwise, just keep along the path.
Right to the Tasting Room
Now, turn right and follow the path down to the lawn. When you reach the lawn, turn left.
Right to the river
Stop here for a moment. Can you see the building on the left? That's the Tasting Room. Head there if you want to sample some of our award-winning wines (which can be paired with chocolate or snacks too). The Tasting Room is also the start of the Gables audio tour.
When you're ready to carry on with this tour, turn right and follow the gravel path across the lawn.
Left between the dam and the river
Head left, and cut across the grass to walk between the dam and the river.
Can you see the small blue machine floating in the dam on your left? This solar-powered cleaner is called a Biosprite Float. It releases small amounts of metal ions into the water, which inhibit the growth of algae.
The Eerste River on your right, along with the Blaauwklippen and Bonte River, make up the 73.8 hectare river system that runs through Spier.
Since 2005, we have been clearing alien vegetation, cleaning and re-planting along the rivers. Aliens consume far more water than indigenous plants. Our replanting means that our farm requires much less water than it used to.
But we can't improve the health of the rivers running through our land alone: we are part of a broader ecosystem and it is important to work with others in the region -- including government, communities and other farms. That is why we became a founding member of the Stellenbosch River Collaborative (or the SRC) in late 2013. This group of like-minded organisations and people is committed to improving the water quality of the rivers in the area.
The SRC’s first project will restore 250 hectares, with cleaning, alien clearing and the planting of 150,000 indigenous trees and plants over the next three years. 28 local community members have been employed to help achieve this.
Cross the bridge
Now, take the right fork in the path, to walk up the small hill.
Just over the rise to the left is Eagle Encounters, which rehabilitates birds of prey that have been injured, poisoned or abused. When they're fit and healthy, they are released into the wild. We won't go there now, but it's worth a visit later.
View from bridge
Turn right now, to walk over the wooden bridge.
As you cross the bridge, look at the bank you're walking towards. Can you see the young saplings that have been planted?
More than 12,000 indigenous plants have been planted since 2008 . They were grown by Spier's nursery, which has a team of 16 permanent employees dedicated to the growing and re-planting of indigenous plant species.
Left into nature
Turn left, and walk along the dirt path.
One of the reasons why we've been replanting indigenous plants at Spier is to lure wildlife back onto the farm. Keep an eye out: you never know what you might see. There are sometimes small mammals around, like rooikat, porcupine and antelope such as the grysbok and steenbok.
In this area, close to the river, there is plenty of bird life. See if you can spot the African paradise flycatcher, the sombre greenbul or the dusky flycatcher as they flit past.
I'm going to let you soak up the quiet for a little bit, now, and will rejoin you further along the road.
You're now approaching slightly denser vegetation. Keep on walking.
As you will have noticed, we've moved away from Spier's hospitality offerings, into a wilder, quieter part of the farm.
Although this land's recorded history dates back to 1692, its story began much, much earlier than this.
Archaeological finds on the farm indicate that humans inhabited the land long before. Around a granite outcrop on the farm called Slangkop (which means "snake head" in English) many stone tool artefacts were found. These belonged to Homo erectus who were living here about 1.2 million years ago. Later on, Slangkop would become a spiritually and historically significant site for the indigenous Khoisan people.
Follow the curve of the road as it veers rightwards.
We're now approaching the site of a project called "Treepreneurs". I'll tell you a bit about it while we walk there. There are 100 Tree-preneurs, between the ages of 5 and 93. They come from impoverished communities in the Western Cape including Blikkiesdorp, Kalkfontein and Lynedoch. The project teaches them to care for indigenous trees and plants. Once these have reached 15cm, they can be exchanged for vouchers for food, clothing, agricultural goods, tools, bicycles and educational support.
The social impact this project makes on the lives of ordinary people is heart-warming. One Tree-preneur, the 49-year-old Tannie Babs Visagie from Heather Park, is particularly inspiring: she runs a food kitchen, using the vouchers earned from her trees to buy food for orphans in her community. Since she joined the project in 2011, she has bartered 5,600 trees.
Approaching Treepreneurs: Birdfeeder
Can you spot the box, standing on four poles on top of the grass bank? We've placed nesting boxes like this one all over the farm to provide housing for our barn and eagle owls.
Birds of prey like these play an important role in keeping our farm healthy and balanced. In just a year, a barn owl family can consume up to one ton of rodents (like rats and mice) which cause damage and soil erosion. Kites and buzzards help to prevent the spread of disease because they're scavengers, cleaning up any organic remains. And small falcons keep the locust, cricket and grasshopper populations in check.
Entrance to Treepreneurs
Welcome to the Tree-preneurs nursery. We've been working with the Wildlands Conservation Trust on this project since 2009. If you'd like to have a look around, you can go inside now. Whenever you're ready to carry on, just turn right to continue along the dirt track.
More on Treepreneurs
The driving force behind Tree-preneurs is Lesley Joemat, a Spier employee who has built a personal relationship with growers, visiting them on a weekly basis to distribute seeds, containers, soil and compost, and to offer advice on growing trees. She is passionate about the people involved, as well as the positive impact that growing trees has on the environment.
Working with the Stellenbosch River Collaborative I mentioned earlier, the Tree-preneurs project has donated 10,000 trees to the Stellenbosch Municipality’s Million Trees Programme. All of the donated trees are planted back into disadvantaged communities, and are helping to rehabilitate the river catchment areas that serve all communities in our region.
Left towards the mountains
As you walk along enjoying views of the farm and the Helderberg mountains, it's worth contemplating: if you were in charge of a farm, how would you run it?
Spier has been farmed according to biodynamic principles since 2008 by my husband, Angus McIntosh. Angus grew up on a cattle ranch in Kwa-Zulu Natal. He is often referred to as The Barefoot Farmer because he enjoys not wearing shoes.
Before he discovered his calling, Angus was a stockbroker in London. In 2004 he declined the offer of promotion and left his job. We decided to move back to South Africa, and to make Spier our home.
While he was building our eco-friendly clay house on the farm, our landscaper, Avice Hindmarch, introduced us to biodynamics. It's an agricultural method, which takes a holistic view to farming, and honours diversity and balance. The farm is viewed as a whole single organism, which should be ecologically, financially and socially profitable.
Biodynamics places a big emphasis on ensuring the soil is as nutrient-rich as possible. No artificial fertilisers are used, because in the long-term, they actually deprive the soil of nutrients. It also means being as sensitive to the environment as possible: no pesticides are allowed, and livestock do not receive hormones or routine antibiotics.
Beyond soil and animals, the people involved are considered an integral element, and staff wellbeing is a priority. The approach also takes into account the impact that the cosmos has on our natural systems. Sowing and harvesting times are based on these cycles.
At the same time that Angus was first introduced to biodynamics, he was reading "The Omnivore’s Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. The book explores the need to know where and how the food on your table has been produced, and takes a critical look at the negative consequences of factory farming.
As you walk along enjoying views of the farm and the Helderberg mountains, it's worth contemplating: if you were in charge of a farm, how would you run it?
Take a left at the crossroads.
Can you see the pump next to the road? Just beyond that are "nature strips" of Renosterveld, in fenced-off patches.
The Western Cape is home to the Cape Floristic Region, which is the smallest but most diverse floristic region in the world. A long time ago, renosterveld – one of the region's plant communities – covered much of the farm. Today, it's highly endangered, and only bits of it remain. We're conserving what's left, and also creating new areas of it, like the areas you're passing where we've planted species grown in the Spier nursery.
While the plants establish themselves, these "nature strips" are kept fenced off so that animals such as porcupines and Egyptian geese don't eat the young bulbs and plants.
By 2017 we aim to have 25% of our 620 hectares conserved. Our commitment to biodiversity has resulted in us being awarded champion status by the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative.
I'll leave you to enjoy some quiet now, and will rejoin you a bit further on.
The gate you'll soon pass on your left is the entrance to Angus's farming operations.
You can keep on walking while I tell you more about it.
Spier’s chickens live in egg-mobiles. Each one is home to 250 hens. There are holes in the bottom so that the chicken manure can fertilise the grass. We move them daily, but look out for them: they're the large green and grey structures on wheels.
Angus buys his chickens when they're 15 weeks old. They start laying eggs at about 20 weeks, and normally lay one egg a day. Unlike at many factory farms, our chickens are never given growth hormones or antibiotics. Instead they’re fed grain, probiotics and mineral supplements. They also get grass, insects and legumes when they go snacking outside. They always come back, and are locked up at night to keep safe.
Almost all commercially available beef cows are kept in feedlots and fed maize, but Angus's cattle roam freely in irrigated pastures, eating nutritious legumes, herbs and grasses – just like nature intended.
Angus uses an approach called high density grazing. His herd of over 300 cattle graze in a concentrated space for a short period of time. They are moved twice a day, munching on 12.5 tons of vegetation per hectare. Spier’s hens also graze the pastures and are moved daily. The hens eat as much grass as 100 cattle.
High density grazing at Spier results in carbon being absorbed more than 17 times faster than normal pasture grazing. This is because it helps the plants to grow faster. Dung from the cattle and chickens acts as a natural fertiliser, speeding up the plants’ growth. The cattle’s hooves aerate the soil, making it easier for water to be absorbed. The frequent eating of the plants also stimulates the speed at which the plants grow.
Spier’s beef also involves generating significantly fewer carbon emissions than conventional farming. The animals only feed on grass, not fossil fuel-hungry grain. They're also slaughtered nearby; and the meat is processed on the farm. It doesn't travel far.
The building up ahead is called De Rus. It's home to our finance department.
Keep walking to the left of the building, and carry on past it. Go through the gap to the left of the gate.
Business at Spier
Spier's various divisions (including our hospitality operations, our farm, and our winery) have nearly 300 permanent employees.
We're striving to create a working environment of fairness, ethics and overall good governance.
Our education and training programmes help to engage our employees and connect them not only to the bigger challenges we face, but also inspire them to make a positive difference personally, at work and in their local community.
All Spier employees complete a two-part environmental induction and training programme in partnership with the Sustainability Institute at Lynedoch, a village nearby. They learn about all aspects of sustainability, and get involved in current Spier environmental projects such as alien clearing and tree planting.
Carry straight on now. I'll join you again a bit further along the road.
Cellars and strawberries
In the distance, you can now see the neighbouring farm's hothouses, where strawberries are grown. Up closer, the buildings you can see a re Spier's winery. Our new wine cellar was built in 1995, and has the capacity to produce 50,000 cases of wine a year under the guidance of our cellar master Frans Smit.
Our wines frequently win awards: both at home and abroad. In 2014 alone, Spier scooped an international trophy, two regional trophies and gold, silver and bronze medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards, the world’s largest and most influential wine competition. And locally, in the same year, we won seven double gold and six gold medals at the Veritas Awards.
Like the rest of the farm, Spier's vineyards (which are just out of sight) are farmed according to biodynamic principles and in 2015, we were officially certified organic. We also source grapes from other parts of the Western Cape, including Tygerberg Hills, Darling and Paarl.
We also focus on saving water: from July 2014 to May 2015 we saved about 4 litres of water for each litre of wine we made! This is thanks to water-saving devices and cleaning techniques that include high pressure machines and barrel steamers.
Back towards the hotel
Now take a sharp right, to walk back towards the hotel.
Waste water treatment plant
Our centralised wastewater treatment plant is on your left. It processes up to a million litres of wastewater at any given time. In fact, it would take a river 350km to purify what the treatment plant can do in one day. We installed it in 2007.
It recycles 100% of wastewater, and treats it using only environmentally friendly methods. The clean water is then used to irrigate the garden and grounds. The plant is the first of its kind in South Africa. It combines a range of techniques to bring life and energy back to the water.
Can you see the open-air tank, divided into four sections? It’s an activated-sludge bioreactor. It accepts water into the first tank, and then forces the water into each of the remaining tanks in an anti-clockwise direction.
The aeration pumps in the tank switch off periodically, allowing the bacteria and waste to settle at the bottom. The cleaner water is skimmed from the top and moved through pipes that irrigate the oval-shaped reed bed you'll soon be reaching. This reed bed is ideal for the natural growth of bacteria, which continue the cleansing process.
The water passes through the reed bed into the pond where it's driven through a number of “flow forms” before being transported to the irrigation dam, which is just over the ridge ahead. It is believed that this process calms the water and helps it return to its more harmonious state.
Although there is no “traditional” scientific validation for the use of flow forms to cleanse water, the concept appeals to us philosophically. The plant also incorporates elements of the work of Dr Masaru Emoto, whose studies showed that water molecules react better to positive words and energies than to negative input. We've therefore included positive words throughout to facilitate this process.
Looking to the future
During apartheid, many black people in farming areas lost their land, while those employed on farms had to endure unsafe and unhealthy working and living conditions. They were also paid pitifully small amounts for their labour.
More than 20 years since our country's transition to democracy, we still face the challenge of dismantling this legacy and building a more equal society.
At Spier, we're aiming to build a sustainable and inclusive future. We hire mostly from local communities and pay all employees a living wage. We invest in several skills development programmes for unemployed young people. We also guide promising black employees towards management positions. There is on-site medical care for staff and we provide financial resources to Lynedoch, our local school.
Keep on the road to the left.
South Africa has some of the most progressive labour laws in the world and we believe it's imperative that both our farms and winery, as well as our suppliers, comply with these laws. This is why we've invested heavily in ensuring that our suppliers obtain WIETA certification.
WIETA is also known as the Agricultural Ethical Trade Initiative. Their code of conduct encompasses working conditions, health and safety, housing and the tenure of workers. Only wines with a supply chain that has been entirely WIETA-accredited from vineyard to cellar may carry the WIETA seal on their bottle. In 2004, Spier became one of the first wineries in South Africa to become WIETA-accredited. Not all of our suppliers have been certified yet, but we're working closely with them to make this happen as soon as possible.
Can you see the wetland on either side of you? Slowly but surely, we're working towards restoring the health of these fragile ecosystems.
On the other side of the hotel, we hope to transform six hectares of land into a new, pristine wetland ecosystem. That area was once a pear orchard and home to a derelict wastewater treatment plant.
A raised grass bank will be built next to Baden Powell Drive, to reduce noise and light pollution from passing traffic. This wetland will include a carbon filtration system to help clean incoming water, and will involve extensive re-planting of indigenous wetland plants. An eco-corridor will also be constructed under Baden Powell Drive to allow for animals to pass freely across the road and into the wetland.
Carry on walking; I'll rejoin you a bit further down the track.
We're going back to the hotel now. Just cross over the grass to the small dirt path, leading into the trees.
Now, turn left towards the river. We're going to reach the end of our tour soon. I have one last thing to show you.
Coming up on your right is the start of our Protea Walk.
This is a celebration of our magnificent national flower and my mother's personal passion project. It was established by well-known landscape architect Patrick Watson and horticulturalist Wilton Sikhosana. If you'd like to see the large variety of proteas growing on the farm, you can stroll along the Protea Walk. Otherwise, you can head past it to cross the bridge and walk back to the hotel.
Thanks for accompanying me on this audio tour of Spier: I hope you've enjoyed listening to the story of our farm, and been inspired by our efforts to create a profoundly positive impact on the environment and society.
By taking responsibility for our planet and its people, we believe that each one of us has the power to make a difference, helping to create a bright future for generations to come.