Strong, the force is!

Every year, Druk my Niet winemaker Alexandra McFarlane chooses a theme to name her barrels of maturing wine. In 2018 it’s Star Wars with Yoda, R2D2 and other familiar names chalked onto the French oak.

What wisdom lies within? – the Yoda barrel...

In 2017 it was A Midsummer Night’s Dream...but it soon became a nightmare as a runaway blaze which began in a pine plantation further up the slope of the Du Toitskloof mountains roared down the slope, fanned by near gale-force winds.
At midnight on January 9 2017, owner Dorothee Kirchner stood at the gate to the 24-hectare boutique wine property between Paarl and Wellington with the clothes on her back, her dogs in the car and watched flames consume the three guest cottages, manor house and historic 1692 winery, along with staff homes.

“I was reading William B Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy at the time, and as I stood there, minutes after I fled my home with nothing, I resolved to take to heart his message: let go of the past, and focus on what I could control and manage,” says Dorothee.

Or as Yoda said to young Skywalker: “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

Husband Georg who was overseas at the time admits with hindsight that it was almost a blessing in disguise, having enabled them to reassess their plantings and do things over. Fortunately, the one building left unscathed was the wine store, safe with its IBR roof – and coincidentally also the only uninsured building on the property! 

As it stands, the manor house has yet to be rebuilt (a few hiccups with Heritage permission holding up the works) but the revamped winery has completed its first harvest. It was short, sharp and down substantially but McFarlane is happy with the results. “We only took in 18 tons off eight hectares but at least we made wine in our own cellar with our own fruit.”

Brand spanking new: Druk my Niet’s gleaming stainless steel tanks, new roof and floor in the revamped cellar which rose from the ashes in just one year.

“The 2018 vintage was like an annoying, lazy fly!” she quipped. “Super uneven year in terms of ripening with a big lag in the middle, yields were down and then we had strong winds which affected our berries.”

It has taken a remarkable effort of will, and no small amount of money, to rise from the ashes within a year. But they have done it as a team with Georg and Dorothee paying tribute to friends for their help but notably to their staff, who also lost everything in the fire. “They have helped the construction crews, doing whatever was needed. They’ve been amazing.,” Georg said.

“I can’t believe that it is only a year since that fire nearly broke our spirits,” says Dorothee, “but the hardships, the set-backs, the uncertainties are all behind us. We have endured, and we are set to prosper. Druk My Niet is back.”

Or as Yoda said: “In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.”

- Fiona McDonald