Spier explores its slave roots

Lucky number: Eight restaurant at the Spier wine estate uses 
ingredients produced by the farm’s biodynamic methods.

Lucky number: Eight restaurant at the Spier wine estate uses ingredients produced by the farm’s biodynamic methods.

The unflagging inventiveness of the good people of Spier wine estate and hotel has continued this year with a raft of intriguing projects.

Besides the annual Infecting the City public arts festival, the recent Secret Festival of food and wine, the burgeoning Spier Arts Academy and the recent addition to the permanent art collection of Marco Cianfanelli’s Dying Slave mosaic (with a quarter-million mosaic pieces), there are ongoing educational, business and ecological projects.

Slated for November is the interactive stage adaptation of The Great Gatsby with “live jazz, dancing and unbridled hedonism” on the estate lawns.

The Spier label has been given a boost with its new fair-trade wines and international accolades at events such as the Concours Mondial des Bruxelles, which does not always only take place in Brussels but also in other host ­cities.

The restaurants have also undergone face-lifts in the past two years with an emphasis on the latest trends — organic, seasonal and ­locavore.

In the spirit of its African renaissance, Spier has put together a journey into the painful history of the Cape. Taking the 21 Gables audio walk before or after lunch is a novel way to round off the day’s excursion.

One is given a headset and an audio device like the ones used in art galleries and museums and the stations are numbered along the Spier pathways.

The impetus for the project came from the realisation that the Spier farm has more surviving Cape Dutch gables — 21 in total — than any other farm, reflecting almost the full spectrum of architectural styles.

Resident theatre director and playwright Brett Bailey researched the history of the farm and set his tale in 1836.

An imaginative evocation of the period, the story is told in 12 short chapters narrated by Sannie de Goede, the ghost of a fictional slave on the eve of her freedom, sensitively portrayed by the expressive Jill Levenberg. Emancipated in 1834, slaves still had to work a four-year apprenticeship for their freedom to be finally granted on December 1 1838.

“Ring your bell, meneer, ring it loud for soon it will be quiet,” she says.

Going deeper
Sannie invites you to visualise the past by taking your cues from the remnants still at hand — the old buildings, the slave bell, an outcrop of rocks, the trees and the Eerste River.
Far more than a tale of suffering, punishment and oppression, there is rebellion, the heartbreak of love, romance, smoking dagga — and happiness, too. We also gain insight into the early days of winemaking in the Cape and an appreciation for the artisanal abilities of the slaves.

It is a meditative experience that leaves one refreshed and with a deeper sense of place and time; a more meaningful connection with the past surrounding us gradually made visible.

A good idea is to book a picnic basket beforehand and continue to enjoy the beauty of the farm in the aftermath of Bailey’s audio theatre. Picnics include a bottle of 21 Gables Chenin Blanc or 21 Gables Pinotage and can be collected at Eight to Go, located next to Eight restaurant.

Eight is a comfortable space with feng shui touches. The number eight is considered auspicious and tied in Chinese philosophy to the earth element and to Spier’s “closed-loop approach” to nature and business.

On display is art from the Spier Art Academy and the ceiling is covered in 14 000 flowers made by artist Heath Nash from recycled plastic bottles. A framed diagram on the wall shows step by step how they were made.

The restaurant has as its mantra “farm to table”, extending one’s appreciation for history and the land through the ingredients produced by Spier’s biodynamic farm practice. Three hundred hectares allow the farm to raise cattle and sheep in pastures as well as genuinely free-range chickens.

Chef Lolli Heyns writes her blackboard menu daily depending on the morning’s harvest. The dishes are fresh and wholesome, living up to the rhetoric. The roasted vegetable salad includes a much greater variety of ingredients than one usually gets and includes cauliflower, green beans, broccoli, mangetout, pumpkin, butternut and rocket.

I’m familiar with Rhode Island “clams casino” (clams baked on the half shell with a bacon topping), but mussels and pancetta pie was new to me. It was a curious but successful combination with intense flavours that might not be to everybody’s taste. The pie is deconstructed — four cigars of pastry placed on top of the bowl of “filling” — and served with a side salad.

The presentation of the dishes is charming and shows flair without being either too fussy or too rustic and plain.

One dish that takes us back to the origins of the slaves is the Malay lentil curry with sambals, but unusually it is served with quinoa.

For dessert try the luxurious warm bread pudding.

For the patrons, many of the good things in life come together effortlessly at Spier — heritage, art, food, good wine, nature and thought. And then there is an appreciation for the blood, sweat and toil of the past.

Eight, the restaurant at Spier, Baden Powell Drive (R310), Stellenbosch. Tel: 021 809 1188

Brent Meersman

Brent Meersman

Brent Meersman is a political novelist (Primary Coloured, Reports Before Daybreak). He has been writing for the Mail & Guardian since 2003 about things that make life more enjoyable – the arts, literature and travel and (in his Friday column, Once Bitten) food. If comments on the internet are to be believed, he is a self-loathing white racist, an ultra-left counter-revolutionary, a neo-liberal communist capitalist, imperialist anarchist, and most proudly a bourgeois working-class lad. Or you can put the labels aside and read what he writes. Visit his website: www.meersman.co.za Read more from Brent Meersman

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