PHOTOS Micky Hoyle PRODUCTION Sumien Brink WORDS Debbie Loots
Equestrian concerns feature right up there with other matters close to the Cavalli Estate owners’ hearts, like their green-star restaurant project, for one.
Cavalli Estate is full of surprises. Its expanse of 110 hectares is not only home to vineyards, brand-new stables, a restaurant and conference centre, it’s also the safekeeper of a critically endangered chunk of renosterveld where special sightings of Cape fox cubs, malachite sunbirds, and the annual return of a resident pair of blue cranes, make the estate’s operations director, Lauren Smith, very happy.
That’s apart from the delight Lauren, whose family owns the wine estate and stud farm just outside Stellenbosch, takes in the horses, of course. “Cavalli” itself is Italian for horses, and the steads are found in many forms all over the farm and inside its buildings: cast in bronze, sketched on paper or painted, while their flesh and bone counterparts trot about in camps dotted around the property, flicking their sun-kissed manes and tails.
Surrounded by views of the Helderberg mountain range to the east and Cape Town’s smoky silhouette etched on the western horizon, we head for the private stud and training facilities. This building outshines all preconceptions about a five-star hotel for horses – if such a thing even exists. Seems it does. Designed by Lauren – an architect by trade – and Bouwer Architects, this magnificent equine abode uses natural resources as far as possible, for ventilation and lighting. Consisting primarily of steel and concrete, its ceiling is clad with grey-oiled timber, giving the space a lofty feel with a touch of luxury.
“The stables were designed with as many interactive opportunities for the horses as possible, who are innately sociable by nature,” Lauren adds.
All good and gorgeous, but it’s high time to get down to some general luxe for humankind and so we whiz off to Cavalli’s new restaurant, Equus. Also passively designed, the restaurant will soon be SA’s first green star-rated restaurant, the result of a pilot project of the Green Building Council.
The main building comprises the restaurant and kitchen, with views across the dam, while below lives the wine cellar next door to a gallery, boutique and conference facility, which has its own private kitchen.
Using a geo-exchange system for the restaurant’s air conditioning does bring about its challenges, but Lauren smiles when she tells of a guest’s phone call once when booking a table, demanding the exact degree of the restaurant’s temperature for lunch.
Not your average operations director, Lauren fastens on an apron every now and then to serve guests herself, as she feels this is the only way to appreciate positive feedback and hear of the possible problem areas that need fixing. Judging from the seared salmon and watermelon salad that chef Henrico Grobbelaar fixed us, it’s all deliciously perfect!
It’s clear Lauren doesn’t discriminate when dishing out heavy doses of green treatment across the estate. She also doesn’t pull in the reins of her beloved equestrian theme, set loose on a healthy gallop all around the buildings’ interiors and the gallery. This is evident in some of the furniture she designed herself, as well as her choice of muted tones and bespoke woodwork pieces.
Finally it’s time to go home, which brings us back outside where we delight one last time in the Cavalli Estate’s gorgeous gardens, conceptualised by Keith Kirsten and Ray Hudson. Guided by Lauren to focus primarily on reintroducing indigenous plants, with specific emphasis on colouring the garden in various textures of bright pinks and purples, it’s all decked out as an open invitation for insect and bird species to make it their home.
All, of course, part of Lauren’s pretty perfect preservation plan for this sprawling 110-hectare land, its beasts and grapes.