Soup Kitchens, Sheep and Sauvignon blanc

Many people from overseas have yearned to live in South Africa having fallen in love with it after an initial visit. Few make that move. Even fewer encourage others in their family in their move to a new country, build a business, make their own wine and commit to uplifting their community.
That’s exactly what members of the Schaap family from Holland have done. It was a dream of Thierry Schaap, a highly successful young banker who had a vision of making his own fine wine and drinking it with friends and family whilst enjoying the beauty of the Western Cape, "I loved the scenery, nature, wildlife and that families were together, enjoying great food and wine in beautiful vineyards". The discovery of a neglected bed and breakfast lodge high on the Schaapenberg was the catalyst. Lalapanzi Lodge (Xhosa for 'where I lay my head to rest') is now a four star luxury guest house with two self-catering cottages and is run by the owner's sister Marie-Helene and her partner Ian.

Among the 17 hectares of fynbos, pine trees and natural flora around the Lodge are just four hectares of vineyards. As keen members of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI) the family were determined to keep the area as natural as possible, leaving more than half to nature, with areas of fynbos and pine.

Soil surveys showed deep, stoney, rich soil and some lime was added to moderate acidity. To curb natural vigour, the vines are unirrigated. Early experiments with straw mulch had devastating effects when the vines were engulfed by the fires of 2009 and even the roots were burnt. The fires took all of their young vines and lead to a complete replant with just two varieties, Thierry’s favourites; Sauvignon blanc and Shiraz. Until they are ready, small parcels from Durbanville, made by Riaan Oostenhuisen, will carry their label and as their own vines mature, more and more of the total will comprise of their own fruit. The young vines have taken well and should produce some fruit this year, about a tonne, but will need longer to reach the quality levels expected of them.

So, Thierry is able to enjoy the vista with his own labelled bottle in his hand, and soon it will contain more of his own grapes, but there is more to it than that. The family had always intended to support and be part of the community, the wine is only one way of doing that.

With guidance, support and continued input from Thierry and Marie-Helene's parents, Henk and Leny, sponsors and friends, their charity, "Children's Foodure" (Children’s Future) was established. First came the soup kitchen in Sir Lowry's Pass, which is staffed completely by volunteers and on a daily basis provides food to a more than two hundred children. Also, every morning a group of about 30 infants get fed separately and personal attention is given to them by means of reading children's stories and playing games. The next step was education. Some 60 children are sponsored through primary and secondary school (clothes, tuition, school supplies and materials for a homework class). Children are encouraged to join the program and if they don't attend regularly and work hard lose their place.

Thierry also wanted to help young adults get an income and sells the products of local craftspeople through a Dutch shop called 'Saam' (together). Eventually, the aim is to employ people here making crafts to sell abroad. Thierry believes that through food, education and employment the cycle of poverty can be broken. "I am in a position to help, so why not ? I felt obliged to help, and I want to", he says.

It is the Dutch connection that makes it all work. The family has outlets for its wine in Holland and some 90% of production is currently exported there. Together with the income from the sale of local products and donations from financial sponsors the Foundation also receives €1 (about R10) from every bottle sold.

If the Dutch connection provides the outlets, it is the wine that is at the heart of the venture. The family's Dutch name, Schaap translates as 'sheep' in English, and their location on the Schaapenberg made the choice of their 'Skaap' label logical, and the design of the label came from local wire and bead artists. Each year the label will feature the work of local artists who receive a fee and considerable exposure of their work in Holland.

Skaap wines will never reach the supermarkets, there will always be limited production. This year, for example, fewer than 7000 bottles were released and only fifteen barrels of the Shiraz lie maturing in their cellar from 2011. "With our vineyards in full production, we might get to 2 500 cases, but we will always be a boutique winery", says Thierry. Their wine will go to Holland, to members of an as yet unformed wine club and to visitors and guests at the Lodge. With neighbors like Journey's End, Wedderwill and Vergelegen, you can expect something special, and in the meantime, certain plots of Durbanville Sauvignon blanc are meeting the family's approval. The 2011 Sauvignon shows classic aromas of nettles and zesty citrus with a rich, smooth palate, good enough to develop over the next six or so years and reflecting the minerality of its origin. Just the thing to enjoy with friends and family and doing exactly what the Schaap family think wine should do, 'bring people together'.

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