Ian Whalley
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Lalapanzi Lodge

In August 2006 my partner (Marie-hélène) and I moved from London to South Africa to take-over a run-down guest farm in the Cape Winelands called Lalapanzi. This is the story of how we successfully re-invent the business, planted a vineyard and created a new wine brand.

Introduction

Lalapanzi is a 17 ha guest farm on an exclusive country estate just outside Somerset West, a suburb of Cape Town.

When we took it over it was an established but rather run-down guest house with;

  • Four B&B rooms and a conference room in the main lodge
  • Two self-catering lodges
  • 15ha of pine and gum forest (alien species)

The challenge

The business was in trouble, the occupancy rate was only 18% and there were no booking for the season ahead. If the business was going to succeed it needed to be re-invented.

The previous identity and brochure

The previous identity and brochure

This is what the lodges looked like when we took over

This is what the lodges looked like when we took over


Approach

Our turn-around plan looked something like this;

  • Exploit the location in the Winelands and reposition the lodge as an exclusive vineyard retreat that's modern, stylish and luxurious
  • Redesign the whole guest experience to make staying at the lodge more appealing
  • Renovate the lodges to four-star standard whilst keeping the prices reasonable and attractive
  • Increase capacity with careful re-planning of the existing building
  • Set-up a restaurant at the lodge to make staying there more attractive and convenient
  • Create a new brand image and more appealing marketing material

We approached the project with guest comfort and experience in mind. We wanted to create a place where we ourselves would want to come and stay, where our friends and family would feel at home.

We spent a lot of time experimenting with ideas, colour, fixtures, fittings, fabrics, flooring, furniture etc. Attempting to create light, bright rooms that were modern, simple and stylish letting the views and breathtaking surrounding to take centre stage.

Our biggest dilemma was how to deal with all the knotty, orange pine floors, walls and ceilings. It was so overpowering and dark, yet the lodge is a solid log building and we didn't want to forget that.

Our solution was to paint the walls a light, natural, earthy colour and leave the window frames and ceiling trusses exposed, staining them a darker brown. Just enough wooden reference to retain a sense of the architecture but much lighter, brighter, fresher and modern. Essentially, more appealing to a broader range of potential guests.

Renovating the Main Lodge

 

Room 1 – before & after

Room 1 – before
 

Room 2

 

Room 3 – before & after

 

Room 4 – before & after

 

The suite – before & after

Previous kids bedrooms

Previous kids bedrooms

 

Conference room – before and after

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Guest Lounge – before and after

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By moving the sliding doors further out onto the balcony we managed to convert a dark corner we never used into a cosy guest lounge and library with honest bar and fireplace. A very useful area for break-away sessions when we have a conference on.

 
 

Dining room – before and after

What is now the dining room was the previous owners private lounge and kitchen. We've now employed our own chef and serve diner 6 nights of the week. Having a large dining space makes the lodge far more attractive as a wedding and conference venue.

 
 

Renovating the Self-Catering Lodges

As you will see below, the self-catering lodges (Ezantsi and Phezulu) were also in need of a serious make over. As well as looking old and tired they were also badly planned. The bedrooms where small and there was too much balcony space that guests didn't use. So we reconfigured them to increase the number and size of bedrooms and bathrooms. And increased the amount of patio space to create more attractive outdoor living areas.

 
 

The lodges before we renovated

 

Ezantsi Lodge

Work in progress

 

Open-plan lounge and kitchen

 

Bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms

 

Outside spaces

 

Phezulu Lodge

Work in progress

 

Open-plan lounge and kitchen

 

Bedrooms and bathrooms

 

Outside spaces

 

The pool – before and after

Pool-Before.jpg

A new area to relax

There's nothing more tranquil and relaxing than sitting next to a pond, listening to the sounds of the country-side and taking in the view. So what better option was there when we wanted to extend the useable space around the Main Lodge than to build our own. Little did we know just how much work would be involved!

 
 
 
 

Creating the vineyard and a new wine brand

As I mentioned at the start of this post, one of our main objectives when we took over was to establish a vineyard on the farm to create a more romantic, evocative destination.

But of course we didn't want to make just any old wine, we had a clear idea that we wanted to create a high quality, accessible wine, that was both environmentally and socially responsible – a wine that was hand-crafted and as natural as possible. This was the idea that guided all our decisions as we planned the vineyard and created the new wine.

 
 

The pine forest and the old stables before we planted

By removing the pine forest and replacing it with a vineyard we reduced (by a third) the amount of water the crop was using.

 

Sustainable farming

When it came to preparing the soil for the planting of the vines we took the organic route by planting cover crop to put the correct nutrients back into the soil, repairing the damage done by the pines. We also decide to go for an un-irrigated vineyard that would use much less water and create a stronger vine.

We became members of the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative (BWI), a pioneering partnership between the South African wine industry and the conservation sector. As members we committed to the preservation of the Cape Floral Kingdom, by using environmentally friendly methods and practices throughout the farm and the lodge. We cleared a fifth of our land of alien vegetation to establish a conservation corridor. This corridor connects two areas of pristine Fynbos and acts as a migration corridor for endangered species.

 
 

The vineyards

In total we planted 4ha of vines – Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz – the two most suitable varieties for the terroir.

We were luck enough to get the help of a brilliant farm manager, Jaco, who takes care of the vines for us. And an award winning wine maker, Riaan Oosthuizen who works his magic in the cellar.

 
 

Introducing Skaap Wines

To most English speaking people our choice of name may seem unusual. So let me tell you the story behind it.

My partner is Dutch, and her family name is Schaap, which means sheep in English. Lalapanzi is situated at the end of the Schaapenberg which means sheep mountain in English. The Afrikaans (which originated from Dutch) for sheep is Skaap. The majority of the wine is exported to The Netherlands, and when a Dutch person sees the name 'Skaap' they understand it but more importantly they recognise that it is a South African wine because of its spelling.

 
 

Wines that make a difference

At the same time we started Skaap Wines we visited a children’s soup kitchen in our local village, we knew we wanted to help the kids we met there so we set up Children’s Foodure, a charitable foundation which helps to feed, clothe and educate the kids that live in the village. We also committed to donating five percent of the revenues from Skaap Wines to help fund the foundation.

 
 

Supporting and promoting local artist

To celebrate this worthy approach to wine we decided to use the labels to showcase the work of local township artists. Each wine features a Skaap by a different artist. Their art is then promoted and sold at the lodge.

 
 

Skaap Shiraz

For the Shiraz label we commissioned scrap metal artists Petros & William Findi. The two brothers work from a old shipping container in the infamous township of Gugulethu. They make a living by creating beautiful animal sculptures from old oil drums.

 
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Skaap Sauvignon Blanc

For the Sauvignon label we commissioned Jack and his collective of local wire and bead artists who work on a street corner in the local town of Somerset West.

 
 

Skaap Okuphinki

For the Okuphinki label we commissioned Random Wire artist Jeff Mwazha who works in the Dunoon Township of Cape Town. He uses recycled wire to create beautiful animal sculptures which he then powder coats in a variety of different colours.

 
 

The results