Wednesday 23 April 2014

Historic Muratie Wine Estate a vintage tale

RIJK and Kim Melck and family consider themselves
"custodians of Muratie Wine Estate's rich heritage."
PORTION of today's Muratie vineyards.

David Ellis

FEW industries attract tales, histories, myths and legends around themselves as does the wine industry.

And in South Africa there's one winery that dates back to the 1600s, and whose yarn about its founders appears an almost fairy-tale of instant lovers, of secret meetings, an ultimate marriage, and seemingly living happily ever after…

Except that for this tale, its initial course ran anything but fairy-tale – because Laurens Campher was a white German soldier with the Dutch East India Company in Cape Town, and his lover, Ansela van de Caab was one of the company's black slaves. And when Laurens quit and moved 64km away to become a farmer in 1685, his appeals to authorities to allow him to marry his lover and release her from her squalor were rebuffed on the grounds she was "a heathen slave."

THE original house that ex-soldier Laurens Campher
built for his wife and former slave, Ansela van de Caab
on what is now Muratie Wine Estate
at Stellenbosch in South Africa.
So bizarrely, once a month for fourteen unbroken years, Laurens walked the 64km from his farm at Stellenbosch to Cape Town to spend a night or two with Ansela in her grim slave's quarters, and then trekked the 64km back to his farm. In that time he fathered three children to her.

And equally bizarrely when an influential Dutch woman in Cape Town heard of their amazing tale in the mid-1690s, she had Ansela tutored in the Bible and eventually baptised into the Lutheran Church – so as a now-Christian she could be freed from slavery and able to marry Laurens.

That marriage took place in 1699 and with their three children, aged 9, 5 and 3, they then walked the 64km to the farm at Stellenbosch on which Laurens had built them a modest stone house. They also planted the first-ever wine-grapes in the Stellenbosch area, and on Lauren's death in 1729 were making 600 litres of wine a year for commercial sale.

Today the Campher's De Driesprong farm is Muratie Wine Estate, one of the most respected names in this prestigious winemaking region, and one of the oldest in South Africa. After Lauren's death, Ansela and their son Cornelius ran the farm and winery for five more years, and in the 1760s it was bought by a Martin Melck for his daughter Anna Catharina (Beyers,) it remaining in the Melck-Beyers family for over a century.

MURATIE'S Ansela van de Caab
blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and
Cabernet Franc is one of the many
wines named after those who've played
a role in the company's rich history.
Others dabbled with it after that, and eventually renowned artist, George Paul Canitz and his wife stumbled upon it empty and in somewhat sad state in the mid-1920s. They fell in love with what they saw, bought it and not being winemakers brought-in experts to guide them – including planting South Africa's first-ever Pinot Noir vines to extraordinary success.

They stayed-on for 30+ years… on their deaths, their daughter Annemarie taking-over the running of Muratie, and remaining there for over three decades more.

And amazingly after the Melck family had owned and run the place for over a century from 1763 until the late 1800s, another Melck – this time Ronnie – appeared on the scene in 1987, to buy and fold the property once again back into the Melck clan.

Today it is managed by Ronnie Melck's son Rijk (who is also winemaker,) his wife Kim, and his brother, sister and mother who call themselves "custodians of Muratie's rich heritage." They also enjoy enormous success both with their wines and Kim's boutique on-site restaurant – the winery open 7 days a week, and Kim's restaurant for lunch Tuesdays to Saturdays.

They've a range of wines honouring the company's founders, including their Ansela van de Caab label blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and an unusual Laurens Campher label blend of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdelho and Viognier.

DAB hands behind Muratie Wine Estate's renowned
kitchen, Kim Melck (right) and Tanya Pohl.
There's also a Ronnie Melck Shiraz, an Isabella Chardonnay (named after Rijk and Kim's daughter,) a George Paul Canitz Pinot Noir – and a Lady Alice sparkling named after a bubbly 20th century socialite who for a time owned the winery.

All these and others are available for tasting and sales daily and there are twice-daily guided cellar tours. Details

Southern African holiday experts Bench International can prepare a range of holiday packages to Cape Town which can include sightseeing excursions to the nearby Winelands and centres like Stellenbosch and Paarl, as well as the Cape of Good Hope and other centres.

For more details phone 1300AFRICA or visit

(Images Muratie Wine Estate)

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