Montpellier was established in 1714 by Jean Imbert and Jacques Theron, Huguenot refugees who reached Table Bay in 1688. Prior to fleeing to Tulbagh, both men resided in the south of France, close to the historic city of Montpellier. When the governor of the Cape, Maurits Pasques de Chavonnes, granted Jean Imbert the land in 1714, he aptly named the farm Montpellier. Jacques Theron was granted the neighbouring farm, Le Rhône.
After the death of Jean Imbert in 1723, Montpellier changed hands several times, but was eventually acquired by descendants of Jacques Theron in the 1880s. The farm stayed in the Theron family for the next 100 years.
In the early years, Montpellier was used exclusively for grazing cattle. The first vineyard was planted soon after the original homestead was built (c. 1815 – c. 1820), but was intended for mostly private use. It was only in the late 1890s when the first commercial vineyards were planted.
In 1884, Hendrik Theron took over the farm and began planting in earnest. The first cultivars consisted mostly of Sémillon, Riesling, French grape and Cinsaut.
In 1945 De Wet Theron inherited the farm and took over the management with a vision of creating high-quality wines. With a singular focus on white wine production, he ripped out the Cinsaut and replaced it with Clairette Blanche, Colombard, Riesling and Chenin Blanc.
He began experimenting to improve production. He found that oxidation could be minimised if CO2 was used to replace O2. He also discovered that the juice of the grapes required cooling, and that temperatures during fermentation needed to be regulated. He implemented cold running water to cool the tanks during the fermentation process and began using 20kg ‘plukkissies’ (boxes) to reduce the handling of the grapes and get them to the cellar as quickly as possible to keep them cool. In 1967 he imported active dry yeast into South Africa.
On 2 December 1967, 1000 bottles of Riesling were hand-bottled, corked and laid down for maturation for four years in order to establish the maturation potential.
The 1971 Riesling, matured for 18 months, was sold and became the first wine to receive a Gold Superior classification.
Later, De Wet Theron added another three cultivars: A Gewürztraminer (bottled in 1971, it also received a Gold Superior classification), Rhine Riesling and Chenin Blanc. A handful of those vintages are still alive and healthy. They have since turned into a honey coloured liquid gold.
In September 1969 a devastating earthquake shook the Tulbagh Valley, levelling the original Cape Dutch homestead. De Wet Theron restored his ancestral home, the structural heritage of which remains today.
In the years that followed, Montpellier suffered neglect and fell into disrepair. But in 2001, Johannesburg advocate, Lucas van Tonder, saw its intrinsic beauty and potential. Lucas purchased the farm and commenced a massive restoration, staying true to the original Cape Dutch design and craftsmanship. Lucas subsequently acquired the neighbouring farm, Constantia (Jacques Theron’s original property).
Montpellier’s homestead is now a National Monument and stands as an outstanding example of the Cape Dutch architecture. The spacious homestead is T-shaped with an extra wing halfway down the tail end. There are three casement windows on either side of the front door and above it is the handsome “holbol” gable decorated with a charming variety of motifs. Inside, the rooms are furnished with beautiful antique Cape Dutch furniture and fitted with more modern amenities.
Visitors are welcome and invited to experience the ambience of the farm and the tradition of a Cape Dutch home.