All-Girl Distillery with Attitude

The 70-year old copper still, safely encased in brick

The 70-year old copper still, safely encased in brick

All hands on deck at Fynbos Distillery at Sir Stanford Estate, a boutique distillery situated on a spectacular, historic wine farm in Western Cape.

It’s an “all girl” distillery and Sarike and Dani, two off the young women were there during a recent visit. These twenty-somethings and an additional distiller, Joanne are creating imaginative and innovative grappa (husk spirits) and witblits products, with attitude.

Dani’s father, Mike Crole and her step-mother Perle (GiGi) Sippel and Jan Milan are behind the re-opening of the distillery just 18-months ago after it had been closed for several years.

A New Life

For Dani, it was an opportunity to start a new life, away from Johannesburg, where her parents have their main business.

Sarike was looking for something different to do with her life and found it in the distillery.

“We are very blessed to work in such a beautiful place,” Dani said, gesturing towards the stunning view over the vineyards and dam.

Both young women share the passion – and the work, with Sarike and Joanne as distillers and Dani as manager. Before the opening, the owners and staff all took their initial instruction and the brandy master course from Professor Loftie Ellis in Stellenbosch. Sarike went on to further her training at Distillique, along with Perle and Mike, completing the Comprehensive Distilling Course and Gin Course.

 Every step in this little distillery, called the Stookhuis, is hands on. “We are much stronger than we started this,” Sarike claims, laughing as she flexes her muscles. Apples and fruit all must be unloaded from pallets. Apples, which are loaded into a crusher, again by hand, come out as mash that gets shoveled into bins to drain.  Pomace, that arrives from local winemakers, has to be shoveled into the 70-odd year old 300 litre copper still, which is heated by an open wood fire and must be constantly tended and monitored.

“My husband pities me,” Dani laughs. “I always stink like fire and my hands are always quite gross.” The upside is he gives her massages, although she claims he is not a very good masseuse!

The old wood-fired copper still is just one of five left in Stanford. It has been bricked in, as an anti-theft device, (copper is very valuable on the black market) and every day, before closing, the head is removed and stored to protect it. There is a small replica in the tasting room to show off the classic shape and style.

Witblits and Mampoer

The small 100 litre stainless steel still in the Stookhuis.

The small 100 litre stainless steel still in the Stookhuis.

According to Distillique, “The French call it Eau de Vie, the Germans call it Schnapps. The Irish call it Poteen and in South Africa, we call it Mampoer, or ‘Unaged Fruit Brandies.’
These are all the same thing: fermented fruit, that becomes fruit wine and distils to ‘unaged fruit brandy’ and when aged in or with French Oak wood, becomes fruit brandies. When we used grapes, then we just call it ‘brandy’ after it has aged, or ‘witblits’ if it has not been aged yet.”
Witblits, South Africa’s answer to moonshine, is predominantly produced in Western Cape and has a reputation of being “white lightening,” another name for this potent drink. “When people hear the word witblits, they get scared. They think it is high proof,” Sarike explains. “But we put it at a proof that is enjoyable.”

With the intention of creating ‘something for everyone,” the distiller ladies use witblits as a base for several of their innovative liqueurs, including a delightful Cranberry Witblits that takes on the color of the cranberries.

Currently, Fynbos Distillery has oaked apple mampoer aging, which will be their iteration of Calvados. Plus, their first brandy is barreled and aging gracefully.

View from Fynbos Distillery

View from Fynbos Distillery

Grappa or Husk Spirits

Often called marc, grappa is a traditionally made from pomace, or the grapes’ discarded skins, stems and seeds. In this wine-rich area, the pomace is readily available, making grappa a natural product for local distilleries.

The three young “lady distillers” have put their creativity to work and developed some innovative and exciting grappa-based liqueurs, besides the Plain and Oaked Husk Spirit that include a to-die-for Chilli Chocolate Cream Liqueur and the Orange Ginger Liqueur.

Sarike (left) and Dani on the right shoveling apple mush.

Sarike (left) and Dani on the right shoveling apple mush.

The Rewards

As she shovels the drained apple mush onto the compost bin, Dani exclaims, “For this I gave up an office job!” But she continues, “It’s really rewarding when you make stuff that people go ‘Wow!’ to.”

Fynbos Distillery at Sir Robert Stanford Wine
Stanford, WC, 7210
Phone: 076 320 3092