When life gives you lemons what better to do but make limoncello.
And that was exactly the thoughts of the new owners of Wildepaardejacht in Paarl as they walked through the bountiful lemon orchids they reminisced of their extensive travels in Southern Italy where they enjoyed the local speciality; Limoncello.
Limoncello is a simple liqueur made from water, sugar and a neutral base alcohol infused with premium lemon zest and is traditionally used as a digestif. There is no secret recipe; the quality depends on the fruit used. But now we reawaken the soul of the sun drenched liquid and start experimenting other ways to enjoy it and add sunshine to our days. Why wait until the end of the meal when you can enjoy the liqueur as an aperitif as well.
Easy like Sunday morning; respecting the art of simplicity we poured the ice cold limoncello over ice, lemon quarters and fresh mint leaves and topped with craft tonic water. The result was deeply refreshing; an invigorating alternative to Gin and Tonic. Looking forward to experimenting more with Citrus Grove Limoncello this summer… and being transported to the luscious lemon grove’s in Sorrento, Southern Italy.
With new owners, a stylish refurbishment and a brace of new products in the pipeline, the historic Cape winelands farm of Wildepaardejacht is enjoying a new lease on life.
Wildepaardejacht – roughly translated as ‘wild horse hunt’ – certainly has a rich and colourful history. The farm dates back to 1688 and the earliest days of the Cape colony, when Huguenots fleeing persecution in France settled on these fertile lands on the slopes of the Klein Drakenstein Mountains, just outside the modern-day town of Paarl. That rich agricultural heritage continues on the farm today, with olive orchards, lemon groves and grape vines gracing the property.
But the farm has also played a pivotal role in South Africa’s contemporary history. In 1993 Wildepaardejacht was purchased by Elita Georgiadis, who in 1998 married former South African state President FW de Klerk. Through the decade the farm welcomed politicians and royalty; hosting the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Nelson Mandela and King Konstantin II of Greece.
With a guest list like that, little wonder the farm gates have long remained closed to the public. But in March 2019 Wildepaardejacht found new owners in entrepreneurs Eddie Meyer, Wayne Bronkhorst and Richard Mooa, who have together revived the spirit of Cape hospitality on this historic estate. With Mooa’s partnership, it also marks the first black ownership of Wildepaardejacht in the farm’s long history.
Today the heart of Wildepaardejacht is its historic guesthouse, built in the Cape Dutch vernacular style with gabled roof and whitewashed walls. Those historic walls play host to 11 comfortable guest rooms, all recently refurbished and each unique in character, individually decorated in a style brimming with personality and charm. Much of the furniture, décor and objets d’art are from Meyer and Bronkhorst’s personal collection, lending a rich sense of personality and authenticity to the space. Rooms are spread between the original homestead and the adjoining farm buildings, with some offering private terraces, direct pool access or scenic vineyard views.
“It’s the perfect destination for family reunions, corporate retreats or small-group getaways, and we often have groups reserving the entire farm,” says Meyer. “We’ve welcomed everyone from honeymoon travellers to captains of industry to multi-generational groups, who have all fallen in love with the serenity and scenery of Wildepaardejacht.”
That serenity extends to the communal areas of the guesthouse. From the intimate lounge of deep-buttoned chesterfields and crackling fireplaces, to the shaded terrace where guests can enjoy traditional South African barbecue dinners (on request) or a sumptuous farm breakfast each morning.
The terrace looks out over the beautiful Paarl winelands; with many of the Cape’s leading estates just a few minutes’ drive away. For active travellers the farm and surrounding mountains offer a wealth of walking trails, while the farm’s gravel roads are ideal for mountain-bike enthusiasts. A number of the Cape’s leading golf courses are situated nearby, or simply settle in beside the sparkling swimming pool to admire the dramatic views of the Klein Drakenstein Mountains and the distant Swartland shimmering away to the north.
The Wildepaardejacht River marks the northern boundary of the farm, flowing from into the Berg River and on to the Atlantic Ocean. And while there may well have been wild horses hunted across these lands in centuries past, today there’s a more prosaic explanation for the farm’s unusual name.
“They say that when there’s heavy rain, the boulders rolling down the riverbed sound like the thunder of horses’ hooves,” says Meyer.
The soaking winter rains that fall on these mountain slopes provide ample water to the farm’s 83 hectares of land. While much of it is given over to conserving the indigenous fynbos vegetation, 24 hectares are under cultivation with olive groves, guava orchards and satsumas destined for export markets. But it’s the lemon orchards that are generating a buzz this summer, with the launch of Wildepaardejacht’s Citrus Grove Limoncello.
“Wayne and I have travelled extensively in Italy, and have always enjoyed the handcrafted limoncello traditionally made in the south of the country,” explains Meyer. “With the Cape’s Mediterranean climate, and the bountiful lemon orchards on the farm, it made perfect sense to bring this wonderful Italian tradition to the Cape winelands.”
While limoncello is an uncomplicated liqueur – a simple infusion of lemon rinds, sugar and a base alcohol – crafting a quality limoncello that ticks all the right boxes of fragrance, flavour and balanced acidity requires an expert hand.
And so the owners of Wildepaardejacht turned to the expertise of Wilderer Distillery in the Paarl winelands. Wilderer is the oldest private distillery in South Africa, with the late-founder Helmut Wilderer first receiving his distilling licence in 1994.
Working with distiller Johan Mönnig, Meyer and Bronkhorst spent months testing, tasting and refining the process until deciding on the final recipe that perfectly balanced the fragrance and flavour of fresh lemon with the warmth of premium grape spirit.
The path to Citrus Grove Limoncello begins in the orchards, where the farm’s Eureka lemons are handpicked, screened for quality, and then carefully peeled by hand.
“It’s a delicate process, there’s simply no way to automate that,” explains Johan Mönnig, distiller at Wilderer Distillery. “You only want the top layer of skin, not the pith, which will bring bitterness to the limoncello.”
The oil-rich lemon skin is placed into a porous nylon bag, which is then macerated for 12 days in a tank of sugar and premium base alcohol, distilled from white wine for a smoother limoncello. The solvent properties of the alcohol gently extract the essential oils from the lemon skins, binding with the grape spirit.
“We’re constantly fine-tuning and playing around with the maceration, but 12 days is ideal for optimal extraction,” says Mönnig. “Over-extraction of the essential oils would bring too much bitterness to the limoncello.”
“It’s all about finding the equilibrium between aromatics, flavour and colour,” adds Meyer. “After maceration, the limoncello is diluted to 28% alcohol using filtered water from the mountain springs on the farm.”
And the new Citrus Grove Limoncello certainly finds the right balance. On the nose the bright fragrance of lemon blossom shines through, underpinned on the palate by velvety sweetness and the gentle warmth of grape spirit.
“We’re also conscious of our carbon footprint across the farm, so for the Citrus Grove Limoncello we have opted for a re-sealable bottle, so that once the limoncello is finished, which I’m sure won’t take long, the bottle can be reused at home,” says Meyer.
Whether enjoyed simply chilled, poured over ice, or with a splash of tonic and a sprig of mint, limoncello is the ideal summer aperitif or digestif. This classic Italian liqueur is also proving to be a sleeper hit in the world of bespoke cocktails and mixology, as bartenders search for new flavour profiles.
But the new Citrus Grove Limoncello isn’t the only exciting product from the farm. The estate boasts 16 hectares of vineyards, and respected local winemaker Arco Laarman has been brought on board to craft the farm’s terroir-driven wines.
“We have put a lot of work into the vineyards over the past year, and I think we are going to see some very exciting wines coming from this property in the future,” says Laarman. “There are some remarkable old vineyards of Chenin Blanc, planted in 1977 [ARCO confirm], which I’m particularly excited about.”
The 2019 Chenin Blanc from these heritage vineyards is due for release in mid-2020, with the 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon unveiled later in 2020.
The Citrus Grove Limoncello is available from selected liquor outlets, and in leading bars and restaurants nationwide.
Wildepaardejacht is situated on Chase Pad Road; just 10 minutes’ drive from the winelands town of Paarl. For more information, visit www.wildepaardejacht.co.za, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 021 862 7800. Room rates start from R1600 per room per night, inclusive of breakfast.