Lanzerac – a Stellenbosch landmark

Friday, January 24th, 2014

A much-loved landmark that holds happy memories for many former students and visitors, the Lanzerac hotel and wine estate in Stellenbosch was interwoven with my childhood. My dad, Dr Gregor Mc Gregor, a GP running a practice in his home town, was the second cousin of visionary hotelier David Rawdon (Rawdon’s Country House in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands – the first of the country house hotels in South Africa; Matjiesfontein with its Lord Milner Hotel; and The Marine in Hermanus), a genius at ‘shabby chic’ long before it became a trend.

It was in 1958 that the Rawdons bought Lanzerac, at the gateway to the beautiful Jonkershoek valley, the quintessential winelands setting complete with a Cape Dutch werf with a history dating back to 1692. They turned it into the first leading luxury country house in the Cape and it became the place to visit, frequented by the rich and famous, including Senator Bobby Kennedy and his wife Ethel. Regular guests from the UK used to travel over by cruise ship and spend the summer months here to escape the rigours of an English winter.

The Lanzerac of my memory was all velvet curtains, faded Persian carpets, and comfy couches and armchairs guests had to remove sleeping cats from in order to sink into their depths; a dark, cobwebby minstrels gallery; a cool library filled with books, the perfect place to escape the summer heat of the Boland; and the best deep, dark-walled swimming pool where I spent many a happy afternoon swimming with my cousins.

My aunt, Comfort Mc Gregor, was in the kitchen, responsible for the puddings and the legendary cheese platters. I still remember the smell of the delicious freshly baked brown health loaves she used to make. Cheese lunches, which cost all of 75c when they were introduced back in the 60s, included a glass of wine, a bowl of soup, Lanzerac’s famous brown bread, at least 20 different cheeses served with pickles and preserves, and coffee to follow. A 1967 issue of Sarie magazine advised readers that they could eat a full meal at the hotel for R1.25 a head, according to the website, and the famous Sunday night buffet dinner was booked out months in advance. Well-known foodie Michael Olivier, who vividly remembers those halcyon days, worked at Lanzerac in the 60s alongside Hermanus (better known as Manie), who still mans the bar and has many a tale to tell of a retired colonel from the Ghurka regiment and a host of other colourful characters.

Lanzerac has another claim to fame – it was the source of the first commercial Pinotage in 1959 which was released in 1961. Their Flagship Pionier Pinotage is a tribute to that maiden wine.

The Rawdons sold the Lanzerac to a consortium in 1988. It was bought by Cape businessman Christo Wiese and his family in 1991 and then, in July 2012, the Lanzerac was acquired by a British consortium. Their intention is to revitalise the property and focus on the quality of the wines, production of which is overseen by winemaker Wynand Lategan.

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The opening of The Deli at Lanzerac, which is next to the elegantly renovated tasting room, is part of this improvement programme, and will make the Lanzerac more accessible to visitors and locals once again. The Deli is overseen by Lanzerac’s executive chef Stephen Fraser and stocks locally sourced artisanal products from jams to chutney, preserves and sauces. Breads, cakes and pastries are baked daily.

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Open or closed sandwiches on a variety of breads with various toppings/fillings as well as cheese and charcuterie boards are available. Picnic baskets – you can create your own from the selection at the deli or pre-book a picnic and wine basket, which includes a bottle of Miss English or Le General from the Heritage range – can also be enjoyed on the green-lawned roof terrace of the winery with its panoramic mountain views all the the way to Table Mountain.

The Tasting Room and Deli is open to the public seven days a week, from 9am to 6pm.

 – Lindsaye Mc Gregor