Spirit of the rising sun

Litchi gin is a first for Mpumalanga


It is impossible to visit Summerfields Estate on the banks of the Sabie River in Mpumalanga and leave unchanged by its calming and enchanting mood. A world set apart from its surroundings, Summerfields is the fruition of an aesthetic vision by the talented Ilse van Heerden. With her creative instinct and understanding of all things luxurious, she has created a tranquil retreat where barefoot indulgence in nature and five-star luxury combine into a serene dream.

Since its founding in 2002, travellers and guests have visited Summerfields for its picturesque setting on the slopes of the magnificent Sabie Valley. Impressive dark macadamia plantations give way to smaller inviting litchi orchards alongside stretches of lush indigenous vegetation. Down by the river, luxury forest tents sit perched over gentle rapids under a cool canopy of sub-tropical trees. Further along a winding wooden walkway, past the natural rose spa, an organic farm-to-table restaurant overlooks a pool where hippos are not an uncommon sight. These days, however, something else has become Summerfields’ big attraction: its unique and novel, recently launched, farm-crafted litchi gin.

Duke Gin was started in 2017 in an attempt to save the sunny litchi orchards of Summerfields estate. A tricky and risky fruit to export, the economic viability of litchi farming was on a rapid decline, and the decision to replace them with macadamia trees had all but been made. It was at this point when Andre van Heerden’s entrepreneurial spirit, and ability to see possibilities where most see none, took flight. As is often the case with visionaries, the transition from initial idea to fully-fledged obsession happened virtually overnight. After a gin course in Johannesburg, Andre was hooked on mastering the distilling process and entered a whole new world of copper stills, litchi fermentation and juniper berries. He has absolutely no desire to look back.

Today Andre and Ilse van Heerden host guests in their beautifully styled gin foundry where they share, with much humour, entertaining stories about the history of the farm, the many farming activities (including macadamia, rose and organic vegetable farming), and most importantly, about the gin-making process. The lowveld’s hot, humid summers with thunderous rainstorms create the ideal climate needed to produce the sweet floral-like flavours characteristic to the litchi fruit. It is Duke’s farm-to-bottle story and exotically fragrant flare that’s been winning hearts, and most guests who taste Duke gin, leave the estate with a bottle in hand.

In celebration of Duke’s overwhelmingly positive reception, Summerfields recently added a gin bar with a view to their array of breath-taking locations. True to the Summerfields aesthetic, the wooden bar blends harmoniously with its natural surroundings – one becomes one with the water beneath the deck, the unseen busyness in the trees and the sometimes electric sky. In the evenings, the sweet smell of potato-bush lingers here and there and the horizon grows gold, then amber, until it’s burning red. If Duke Gin of Summerfields doesn’t win you over, the surroundings certainly will.

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Issue 64


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