Refurbished Plaisir de Merle Mill brings back a taste of yesteryear

Tuesday, 11 June, 2013
Plaisir de Merle
Bread and wine come together in harmony at the historic Plaisir de Merle wine farm in Simondium, situated between Paarl and Franschhoek, where the old water mill has been refurbished and is all set for action, adding a distinctive ambience to the appealing character of the cellar.
According to Niel Bester who is both cellarmaster and miller, this mill, located in the moat, just outside the cellar entrance, is not just an architectural showpiece - it mills the grain for flour used in baking homemade bread on the farm.

Plaisir de Merle dates back to 1693 when the French Huguenot family, the Marais, were granted the land. Many Marais descendants carried on the winemaking tradition, building a dynasty and a reputation that would endure for centuries.

The original mill wheel probably dates back to about 1764, when a third-generation descendant Jacob Marais and his wife Maria, could afford to build an impressive manor house (a large part of which is still intact today), as well as a large werf or yard with outbuildings. There was an outside pantry, a meat cellar and a bake house for Maria, while her husband's domain included a cellar with winemaking equipment, a distillery, a smithy, a cart shed and a stable.

Although historical records name a mill and church as the only public buildings in the Drakenstein area at the time, there were untold problems at the public mill. The slave in charge of the mill was often intoxicated and the farmers' slaves used to get drunk, losing half the corn they were supposed to bring home. There was a real fear that drunken slaves might set fire to the mill and cause great loss to the district, as milling corn was a priority for the farmers.

This may well have been the reason why Jacob Marais decided to build Maria her own mill for the use of family and friends on Plaisir de Merle. It was erected at one end of the dwelling - an unusual but convenient position, for it gave access directly from the house.

The new mill house is surrounded on three sides by a moat which is fed by water from a mountain stream. The moat also surrounds the Plaisir de Merle cellar, with the mill house being incorporated into the exterior design of the cellar. This unusual architectural aspect of the cellar and moat enhances the tranquillity, charm and rural atmosphere of the setting.
The design is based on that of a derelict mill on the Cederberg farm Keerbos, which once belonged to Gerrit Nieuwoudt, and some of its parts were used at Plaisir de Merle. The wheel was made of cedarwood. The artist, Karl-Heinz Wilhelm, who is acclaimed for his wood carvings, helped with the reconstruction of the new mill. The interior of the mill house is most impressive with all the wooden parts are hand-made, taking one back to yesteryear.

Today, Plaisir de Merle is one of the biggest wine farms in the area, producing a range of award-winning cultivar wines. It has also become a sought-after venue for weddings and small conferences in the exclusive Manor House dating back to 1874.

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