The De Wet family have farmed at Excelsior Estate, in the Robertson wine valley, since 1859
The De Wet family have farmed at Excelsior Estate, in the Robertson wine valley, since 1859 when Koos de Wet settled here and began clearing the veld of the Little Karoo.
Koos de Wet was a direct descendant of Jacobus de Wet, the first member of the family to arrive in South Africa. Jacobus, who was an official of the Dutch East India Company landed in Cape Town in 1697 and made planting vines a priority. He bought a large farm in Stellenbosch and later earned the distinction of being one of the first wine makers in Cape Town and the Southern hemisphere. Most of the de Wet family eventually settled in the Worcester area but after a family disagreement (he fell in love with his brother’s fiancé!) Koos de Wet came to the Robertson area and established himself at Excelsior Estate. He later divided his farm between his sons who went on to breed horses and plant vineyards. The third brother, Jacobus Stephanus (known as Kowie) inherited Excelsior and, in addition to producing wine, soon became one of the most successful ostrich breeders in the Robertson district.
Ostrich plumes were the essence of haute couture in the early 20th century and big business. At the height of the market a single ostrich plume was sold for £5, which could buy you a passage from Cape Town to London! South African ostrich breeders displayed their new found affluence in a style of architecture which became known as ‘feather palaces’. Kowie de Wet was no exception and built Excelsior Manor in the Cape Revival style; it has the characteristic elegance of the Victorian era, embellished with Cape Dutch gables. He furnished his new home with ornate European furniture and the de Wet family enjoyed entertaining and social events linked to the Cape Hunt and Polo Club.
The invention of the motorcar abruptly ended the fashion for ostrich feather millinery; ethereal bonnets and boas were no longer practical and were rapidly replaced by well tucked in scarves and tight fitting hats which better suited open top cars. Kowie and his son Oscar shifted their focus to breeding horses and cultivating vines; their quick thinking and good business sense saved Excelsior and it was one of the few farms not declared insolvent at the time.