The picturesque Sumaridge Estate has long been a recognisable beacon in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Its new owners have big plans for the property, now known as the Hasher Family Estate.
Frederik Herten and Céline Haspeslagh have always had a strong connection with South Africa. Frederik came to know the country as a boy, and has jumped at the opportunity to travel here ever since. “Much of my time spent here was, in fact, in Hermanus. Céline and I actually visited Sumaridge together for the first time in 2008,” Frederik says. “We never would have thought one day we’d have the opportunity to acquire it.”
Frederik’s love for the area was contagious and Céline was soon bitten by the same bug. Their passion passes on to their three small children, Ernest, Héloïse and Emile, as the family moved to settle in South Africa.
Back in Belgium, Frederik had always been attracted to the wine business. “Even though my day job involved advising financial institutions and private equity investors, I always found a way to get involved with the wine industry on the side – albeit more as a hobby than to really make money. It was really just something I liked doing and got lots of energy and inspiration from.”
Simply by doing what he loved, Frederik managed to become a trained sommelier and start an online wine distribution platform, going on to assist a client with the development of what is now one of the most influential wine estates in Belgium. “There aren’t many industries like the wine industry,” he says. “It certainly comes with many challenges and competition, but the beauty of the product and the unique experience of growing your own vineyards to make your own wine more than makes up for it. It also creates a very intense connection with nature.”
Céline’s family has an extensive agricultural background, having farmed in Belgium continuously for more than 300 years. Her family is now at the forefront of organic vegetable and fruit production in Europe. “We consider ourselves very lucky to have many generations of farming secrets being passed on to us by Céline’s father, Bernard, and her uncle Xavier,” Frederik says.
The Covid-19 pandemic shook everyone out of their normal routines. “We were able to find a bit of time between our demanding jobs and raising our three young kids to really contemplate our future. It’s then that we decided to take the leap and combine our love for South Africa with our wish to create extraordinary wines.”
A new beginning
Their minds made up, Céline and Frederik began investigating opportunities in the Cape Winelands. After some brainstorming they settled on a list of criteria for their ideal wine estate: Vineyards with potential for exceptional wines of premium quality; small enough to manage at the start, but with potential to grow to at least 50 ha under vine for optimal economies of scale; a cooler climate where global warming would have a smaller impact; and being part of a greater area where their wildlife and nature preservation efforts can really make a difference.
They looked at the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, but none of the sites there met all the criteria. The search took them from Stellenbosch to Constantia and Franschhoek, to no avail. One day, a discussion with an old friend, JC Martin of Creation Wines, put them onto a lead. “JC had heard through the grapevine that the previous owners of Sumaridge might consider passing their estate on to a new owner, provided the right person came along. We got acquainted with them and after several months of informal meetings and getting to know each other, they decided to give us the opportunity to acquire the estate.”
The pieces of the puzzle were falling into place. “It was as if it was meant to be,” says Frederik. “At 180 ha, the Sumaridge estate is sizeable for the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, and its exceptional location in the heart of the valley spoils us with spectacular views over the De Bosdam, the Atlantic Ocean and Hangklip. On a clear day, you can even see all the way to Cape Point! The terroir is marked by clay and decomposed granite soils with quartzite inclusions and the mainly north and northwest-facing slopes benefit from the cooling influence of the ocean breeze. Some of the vineyards bordering on the De Bosdam flourish even more, thanks to its cooling influences.”
The first order of business was to rebrand to Hasher Family Estate. “The name is a combination of Haspeslagh and Herten – the former being that of my wife Céline and her uncle Xavier, who is a co-investor in the business, and the latter belonging to me and our children.”
There are also many changes under the hood. “Where Sumaridge estate used to produce a wide variety of wines, we’ve decided to change this strategy and rather focus on what the terroir does best: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.” The decisions weren’t always easy. When they purchased the estate in 2021, the farm had almost 35 ha under vine. But after taking out varietals they felt didn’t benefit enough from the terroir, such as Merlot and Shiraz, they’ve reduced the vineyards to just 19 ha.
“The remaining vineyards are now being taken through an extensive process of rejuvenation to make them strong enough to last many more years to come,” says Frederik. “We’re also applying many changes in the vineyard management strategy, including the application of organic management principles as well as new winter pruning techniques to improve the quality of the fruit.”
“In the cellar, we’ve stepped away from a more cellar-driven approach to winemaking to adopt a more terroir-driven vision. This is most evident in the Hasher Family Estate Pinot Noir, which is stylistically very different from the Pinot Noirs that had previously been released under the Sumaridge label.”
The estate’s first wines will be launched on 24 February 2022. “Even though we were not yet managing the estate at the time, the previous owner allowed us to harvest and buy a limited amount of grapes, which we were able to vinify into three magnificent wines we’re particularly proud of: ‘Ernest’ – a single vineyard Pinot Noir which expresses the elegance of the clay and granite in our soils; ‘Marimist’ – a Chardonnay that reflects the salinity and cooling influence of the Atlantic Ocean; and ‘Fat Lady’ – a Sauvignon Blanc from a single vineyard block that will make way for new plantings after harvest. This gives wine lovers a rare opportunity to drink the last juice from these old vines.”
These maiden vintages will be released in very small quantities and are expected to sell out quickly.
From these small beginnings, the Herten-Haspeslagh family will keep investing in the business. “We have many projects on the drawing board, but for now our main focus is the rejuvenation of the existing vineyards and the development of new vineyards to grow our production of estate wines,” Frederik says. “We also want to produce a cool-climate Pinotage, as it would make sense for this varietal to thrive in the same terroir as Pinot Noir.”
The second phase of development will also improve the cellar and include a new tasting room. “Until then the existing tasting room will open by appointment only and to host winemakers’ dinners and other events for the local community.”
“We will also be identifying over 50 ha of fynbos land to dedicate to wildlife and nature preservation, creating a belt from the lower Hemel-en-Aarde Valley towards the mouth of the Onrus River in the De Bosdam, from where animals can find their way into the Babilonstoring Nature Reserve. Bordering on this belt, we plan to build eco-friendly holiday cottages overlooking the De Bosdam and Babilonstoring. These cottages will be built entirely off the grid and will allow guests to enjoy the pristine nature of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley from their secluded space, yet only 15 minutes away from the beaches and restaurants of Hermanus.”