Category Archives: Winelands

Solar makes cents, and Boschendal becomes a significant producer

About two years ago, the V&A Waterfront commissioned 4,207 solar panels (7,000m²) installed on the roofs of the main Waterfront buildings, with a total electrical output of 1,093.8 kWp at a cost of R20 million.  It conserves about 1,721,956 kWh annually, significantly reducing the Waterfront’s environmental footprint.  At the same time, Boschendal commissioned its first, small rooftop solar installation at the Rachelsfontein complex.

Then in October 2017, Robben Island launched its R25 million, 666kWp solar farm supported by 828 kWh battery storage, to reduce reliance of diesel which was shipped in for the island’s generators.  Just based on the cost of fuel savings, the Robben Island installation will pay for itself within five years.  The micro-grid on Robben Island is the largest combined solar and lithium-ion storage micro-grid system in South Africa.

Boschendal solar farm

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Bucking the trend in the drought

The Western Cape has faced its worst drought in a century, and this is the third consecutive year of that drought.  Cape Town’s mayor has been at pains to point out that — with climate change — “This is the new normal.”

With dwindling water supply to farmers, crop productions have been slashed and, across the Province, between 35,000 and 50,000 jobs are at risk, excluding an even larger number of seasonal workers.  I asked for the provincial department of agriculture’s stats for produce under threat but received no response!  I am underwhelmed!

Minister Alan Winde’s speeches, however, paint a dire picture which are just a tip of the iceberg.  A month ago, Alan visited the West Coast.  “There’s thousands and thousands of hectares of agricultural land below the Clanwilliam Dam which produces a lot of produce and revenue for our country that’s now under severe water restrictions. They’re going to produce 50% less,” he said.  “Farmers are being throttled and are forced to use 60% less water, with the Clanwilliam Dam level at around 36%.  There’s an 80% decrease in potato crops and a drop in wine and export quality citrus.”  With commercial farmers struggling, one focus for Province is supporting backyard food gardens for workers’ food security.

“In places like Ceres, 80% less potatoes and 50% less onions will be planted — resulting in about R40 million less paid out in salaries and wages.  In Lutzville the tomato paste plant will not even open this year.  Some 30 000 animals have been sold as farmers battled to feed their core herds.”

Against this backdrop, Boschendal started out at the beginning of the drought with a massive planting of 600,000 new fruit trees over a period of three years — which has just been completed. Permanent jobs in farming operations alone has grown from 70 to 287.  Their dams are full and Jacques du Toit, Boschendal’s general manager, said the dams started overflowing on 20 August and he counted 15 streams on the farm running into the Dwars River, on to the Berg River, and out to sea… Continue reading

A new, ‘must-stop’ on the R45 between the N1 & Franschhoek

For many years, there’ve been two sad old buildings full of potential on the R45 between the N1 and Franschhoek.  One of them used to house the old Groot Drakenstein post office.

Landscape architect Danie Steenkamp bought the property recently and has given it a new lease on life, selling the one building to Vicki Bell for her antique and collectable shop and keeping the other building for his, an architect’s and lawyers offices… and the Ou Meul Bakery that will become a new compulsory stop on the R45.

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The old Groot Drakenstein Handelshuis, and one-time post office, is now the grand old lady on the R45 from the N1 to Franschhoek.

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Pniel’s home-grown entrepreneur

Elrico Pietersen was born in Pniel on the slopes of the Simonsberg and went to Pniel Primary School and then Kylemore High School, a few kilometres up the road.  “I wasn’t one of the lucky ones to go away to school — my mother is a baker with two children,” he says.

Elico Pietersen and Sammy of Bikes at Boschendal

Elrico Pietersen and Sonny of Bikes at Boschendal.  Elrico is the entrepreneur and Sonny is a bike mechanic/tour guide who has done the Cape Epic and rides for South Africa in MTB cycling.

Elrico ran two businesses while he was in high school, both game shops which sold other necessities in “The Scheme”, the part of Pniel where he lived. “Game shops?” I asked.  They offered video games for kids with little else to do.  Elrico started identifying opportunities early on.

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Snoozy snake survives to slither in the mountain reserves

I wasn’t too thrilled to find a snake in the outbuilding that houses my solar batteries and inverter yesterday afernoon.  And since I know nothing about snakes, I posted a photo of it to find out what it is.  Well… everybody on Facebook seems to know far more about snakes than I do and I was bombarded with suggestions… like “coaxing it into a bag”. Yeah, no thanks.

And then Adele Toua who manages the Simonsberg Conservancy put me in touch with someone and he offered to take it away this morning.  And that’s how I met Kobus Smit of the Cape Reptile Institute.

I don’t know what I was expecting but I think some drama was at the top of the list.  But hardly a minute later Kobus had it in the tube and it was all done.

South African Puff Adder

“A nice big boy” was Kobus’ first comment. But this big boy needed to be prodded to wake up.

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Spectacular Sunday morning first light

If there’s one thing this south-western corner of the African continent really has going for it, it is the quality of light.  Add to the that the confluence of two oceans and spectacular mountains, and one has light displays that are hard to beat.

These were my views from home yesterday morning before the sun had even properly risen… it was at first light.  The first view is across three mountain ranges to the Matroosberg on the other side of Worcester.  The second two are towards Franschhoek.

First light on Boschendal First light on Boschendal First light on Boschendal

What a great little village Pniël could be!

When CapeInfo was deciding on the most beautiful drive in South Africa, Helshoogte came up tops for every reason — the ever changing views in every season, the dramatic mountain vistas and the things to do on the route.  On the Stellenbosch side of the Pass, there are views back to Table Mountain.  From the top and on the eastern side, there are views across four mountain ranges (and all the way to the other side of Worcester.)  The attractions are anchored by Delaire Graff, Tokara and Thelema on the one side and and Boschendal and Solms-Delta on the other.

And in between there’s Pniël — a delightful little village with a rich history… but little to offer the traveller.  Yes, there is the historic church as well as the fascinating Pniël Museum with its peaceful tea garden, but you need to check that they are open if you’re planning to visit — their opening times are erratic.

Pniël Congregational Church

Pniël Congregational Church — the heart and soul of the village.

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It’s time to really start promoting small entrepreneurs

I live close to the villages of Pniel, Lanquedoc and Kylemore outside Stellenbosch.  Now that’s not an area where you find a booklet advertising local services — which is what I really needed when I arrived there.  If there was, the small businesses there are probably so small they probably wouldn’t be able to afford the advertising costs.  So, I ended up using services in Paarl and Stellenbosch.

Then, when my bakkie needed new front disk pads and I really didn’t feel like trekking into Stellenbosch, leaving the bakkie while the repairs are done and collecting it later.  So I asked the security company on Boschendal which seems to know the local community if they knew of anybody. Continue reading

What’s in a name? Everything!

Only politicians, bureaucrats and the foolish think that when they choose a name to brand a destination, they have the makings of a successful brand. They usually choose what they regard as a “safe” name, catering for all interests, ignoring everything that is already well-established.

And without the budgets of Unilever or SA Breweries, or  a carefully created brand strategy, they believe their new brand will take root just on their say-so.

For some time now, I’ve driven Helshoogte Road (R312) between Boschendal and Stellenbosch almost daily, and I’m convinced that this is one of the most stunning drives in South Africa. It passes the villages of Pniel, Jacobsdal and Kylemore through the Banhoek Valley.  With the anchors of Delaire Graff and Tokara at the top of Helshoogte Pass and Boschendal at the Franschhoek side of the road, and much in between, it is a destination in its own right.

Banhoek Valley from the top of Helshoogte Pass 5km outside Stellenbosch.

Banhoek Valley from the top of Helshoogte Pass 5km outside Stellenbosch.

This area has been named Dwarsrivier Tourism from the name of the river that runs through the valley.  It’s yet another case where tourism is not aligned to the destination.

Dwarsrivier is hardly unique in South Africa and is definitely not the area’s best known feature.  The old Bangehoek (anglicised to Banhoek) and Helshoogte are what most people still refer to when talking about the area.

Helshoogte Pass

Stellenbosch's outgoing mayor, Conrad Sidego, gave me this book yesterday as a thank you gift.  It is a stunning book, and just reinforces our thinking about this area.

Stellenbosch’s outgoing mayor, Conrad Sidego, gave me this book yesterday as a thank you gift. It is a stunning book, and just reinforces our thinking about this area.

CapeInfo has added Banhoek Valley over Helshoogte Pass as a new destination, ignoring Dwarsrivier Tourism as the area’s name.  We have written to the manager of the tourism organisation explaining what we’re doing but haven’t received any response or acknowledgement.

We decided to use Banhoek instead of the old Banghoek or Bangehoek since the conservancy covering the area has been named Banhoek.  And we’ve included the use of Helshoogte for it’s uniqueness and the memory of the old winding pass planted with bluegum trees to stop cars driving over the edge.  (Does anybody have the story of how those trees came to be planted?)

Some people have suggested we should be using the original Bangehoek as the name.  What do you think?