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Friday, February 19, 2010


Classical music piped through the vineyards of the De Morgenzon farm at Stellenbosch.

The wine community is far-flung, and it is a letter from England that has drawn my attention to a musical estate in the Western Cape.

My brother-in-law John Hermsen, a retired London architect and a wine enthusiast, has sent me a cutting from the Observer newspaper about the classical music which is piped through the vineyards of the De Morgenzon farm at Stellenbosch, as an encouragement for the grapes (I suppose the farm workers might also derive some benefit).

I had not heard before of this interesting initiative at De Morgenzon, which is an old farm (vines were first planted there 300 years ago) with relatively new owners, Hylton and Wendy Appelbaum, who bought it in 2003. Wendy Appelbaum is the daughter of Donald Gordon, the business magnate who founded the Liberty Life insurance company in South Africa and after that the Liberty International property company in England. He has lived in England for many years, has been a generous supporter of the arts, and is now Sir Donald.

Wendy Appelbaum herself has been a prominent business woman and is still involved in many business and philanthropic activities, and she breeds racehorses.

I have now learned locally that she and her husband Hylton play recorded eighteenth-century baroque music to the vines 24 hours a day, relayed through outdoor loudspeakers. They say the sound and vibrations help the ripening process. The composers performed include Johann Sebastian Bach, Handel, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Corelli, Mozart, Couperin, Boccherini, Albinoni and William Byrd.

This is not an entirely new idea. Some Chilean winemakers play music to their vines and say that their customers can detect the improvement in the wines. And apparently the biggest stereo system is at Cloudy Bay in New Zealand, where the winemaker believes that music by the Andrews Sisters is good for his grapes. Experiments in Turkey have indicated that music helps promote root and leaf growth of the vines. Here the composers used were Wagner, Mozart, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Schubert.

As one who writes about music and wine, I find the whole idea delightful.

De Morgenzon (“the morning sun”, so named because it catches the dawn’s first rays in the Stellenbosch Kloof) produces about 20,000 cases of wine a year. There are five different wines, all of them well regarded, including an outstanding chenin blanc and a red blend called Concerto. The estate covers 91 hectares, is between 200 and 400 metres above sea level, and it has beautiful gardens and views of Cape Town, Table Mountain, Cape Point and Cape Hangklip.

It is open for tasting and sales, and if you like music you can pick up some of that too, from the loudspeakers in the vineyards. De Morgenzon phone number is 021 881 3030. – Michael Green