Morgenhof was acquired by Unipalm Investment Holdings in December 2021. Under its care, the historic estate is set for a metamorphosis that will add value to the whole region. WineLand spoke with MD Salman Kajie about this ambitious vision.
It’s difficult to imagine change on a farm that dates back to 1692. The stately white-and-grey profiles of its historic Cape Dutch-style buildings lie comfortably nestled against the green slopes of the Simonsberg and seem content to remain that way.
But the sounds and signs of furious construction belies the serenity. Behind the scenes, the property is undergoing a major transformation.
Morgenhof represents a significant entry into the wine industry for the majority black-owned company, Unipalm, a 20-year-old Cape Town-based investment holdings firm which acquired the property in December.
It’s clear Morgenhof forms part of a much bigger picture. “It’s all about African excellence – we want to create value for the region and its people and drive entrepreneurial flair on the continent,” says Managing Director Salman Kajie.
Unipalm’s investments have included a broad range of sectors, from telecoms, mining, and engineering to hospitality and real estate. “We see a future in food security and developing the South African agricultural value chain,” Salman says.
The firm has recently diversified into agribusiness and has already acquired another undisclosed 200 ha farm in the vicinity, which will be developed alongside Morgenhof.
With hospitality and tourism taking a significant hit during the COVID pandemic, the priority at Morgenhof will be to rebuild local confidence in the sector. This means starting with the restaurant and eventually moving on to accommodation, while maximising the potential for a wide range of lifestyle activities in-between.
The Morgenhof family
While infrastructure development will focus on diversifying the value proposition and bringing new revenue streams online, people will be its lifeblood. “You need roots to grow,” says Salman.
“The legacy and culture of the farm will run through its veins as it expands. Whatever we do, we want to do it with the people of Morgenhof and for the people of Stellenbosch.”
Besides its lengthy pedigree spanning 330 years, Morgenhof is not just a business; it also sustains families who have lived and worked here all their lives. “It’s a community, and part of the greater Stellenbosch community,” Salman says.
“My mantra is: people drive performance, drives profitability. Bringing the farm up to a level where it’s all worth it – driven by excellence – will also build a legacy their children and grandchildren can be proud of. The upliftment is by them and for them, and they must be able to enjoy its benefits.”
As a popular wedding venue, many locals also share a deep emotional connection with the farm. These personal attachments represent the soul of the farm, and the plan is to become much more inclusive.
“It’s such a beautiful estate with so much to offer that limiting it to grape production and winemaking would be underutilising it – not only for us but also for the public,” says Salman. “We want to create opportunities for people who’ve never had access to the farm before.”
Head of marketing and sales Daniel Enslin, himself an avid athlete, says the quality of the trails are world class. “We have [veteran trail builder] Meurant Botha building our trails,” he explains. “You have to work with the best in the business to make a world class site.”
Daniel is also negotiating with other providers with a view to creating an inclusive experience where everyone feels welcome. “We want to create an offering that caters to most, if not all of the market. Whether you have R50 or R200 to spend for the day, there should be something for everybody.”
“Within the next six to eight months this side of Stellenbosch will become reactivated,” Daniel says. “We have a really exciting platform for activities and are in a prime position to create a fun and exciting space for individuals, couples and families to enjoy.”
The focus on families will extend to several play areas and activities for kids which they can enjoy under supervision by dedicated staff, freeing parents for other activities. This will no doubt be a welcome service for many parents!
There’s clearly no room for shortcuts in this quest to become a one-stop destination for all South Africans. “Everything we do has to be best of breed,” says Salman.
“Whatever the service or activity, we will identify the best partners in the Western Cape and collaborate with them to offer visitors the best possible experience and expertise possible.”
A platform for success
Morgenhof will be following a collaborative model in its other offerings as well, whether it’s for meals, craft beer, baked goods or a high end bar.
“We acknowledge that we’re not the experts, but we are in a position to develop the country’s young brands. We’ll collaborate with private sector to bring in brands who not only share our ethos but can use our platform to share in our success.”
Meanwhile, the farm will aggressively develop its brand with a range of wines from the hands of its experienced viticulturist Rohan Breytenbach and winemaker Andries de Klerk. The new range will consist of lifestyle wines, supplemented by upgraded water infrastructure and grapes from the second property, and topped by iconic estate wines.
The iconic underground cellar with the French quarter above will become a timeless centrepiece amid a grand procession of exclusive dinners, functions, wine tastings, multiple venues, fine dining and events…
The list of plans and possibilities seems endless. Unipalm intends to push the envelope and raise the bar of what’s possible on a traditional wine farm. If only half of their plans realise, Morgenhof will become a hub of activity for young and old, from near and far.
But this won’t be a place for half measures. “Unipalm is a serious player with a serious track record,” concludes Salman. “We’re committed to the South African business and social ecosystem, and intend to be part of the positive narrative for the country’s future.”