The Zoetendal story starts with sunken ships and drunken sailors – a dramatic debut! It was the year 1673. The 448-ton Zoetendal, carrying a rich load of rice grains on a return voyage from present-day Jakarta, rounded the dreaded Cabo das Agulhas. Captain Block’s boisterous crew were a tad inebriated at the time, no doubt belting out songs in celebration of their success. But before the effects of the liquor had worn off, the ship was taken by the turbulent currents and dashed against the rocks at the southern-most tip of Africa.
The surviving stragglers made their way ashore to find the sweet waters of a freshwater vlei. They named it Zoetendalsvlei, in memory of their sunken vessel, now lost to the deep. They also found succour with the local Chainoqua clan, whose formidable chief Dorha, a much-esteemed cattle trader, was well-known to the VOC functionaries at the Cape. Through the kindness and guidance of these local Khoikhoi, the Zoetendal survivors were able to make their way back to their kith and kin at the Cape.
Years later, in 1817, Michiel van Breda introduced sheep farming to the region. He not only bred the first South African Merinos, but fought passionately for the first lighthouse to be built – on land he donated, as a result, no doubt, of witnessing one too many wrecks.
Skip forward a few centuries, and farmer Johan de Kock, forming a local collective known as Land’s End, helped to bravely launch viticulture in the region. The first 15 hectares of vines were planted in the Elim ward in 1996, in what was to become the newest winemaking frontier of the world. In 2004, De Kock went solo and launched his own label, Zoetendal, producing remarkable boutique wines whose top notes take their cue from their equally remarkable terroir. Indeed, cultivars and wines from the Zoetendal estate have been used to make up award-winning vintages under expert vintners like Charles Hopkins of De Grendel.