The area around Franschhoek, which in the Afrikaans language means ‘French corner ’, was as the name suggests once a French enclave when over 300 years ago a group of Huguenot settlers arrived fleeing religious persecution. That influence, nestled right alongside the larger Dutch-speaking community, is what gives the region such a rich and varied history, and unsurprisingly, a taste for fine food and wine!
In the beginning…
Title deeds to the estate were first granted to the de Villiers family in 1688 and building commenced in 1700. The cairn of stones on the property marks the position of a beacon which was lit to advise local residents that the local preacher had arrived so they could all gather for prayer. It was also used to welcome VIPs to the district. Apart from the fact that wine has been consistently produced on the land since that time, not much is known about the ownership until the early part of the 20th century when the Roux family held title to the estate.
In 1940, Abraham Michelson purchased the land which at the time consisted of a cellar with 20 large oak vats with the majority of vines having been planted around the time of the last Boer War (1899- 1902). Descendants of the Michelson family still live in the area and own part of the land from that original holding. Michelson started Franschhoek Winery after the 2nd World War and the farmers in the district used to send their bulk wine to them for bottling. During this period Italian prisoners-of-war were used to work in the district’s vineyards and at the war’s end Mr Michelson employed one of them, a Mr AG Augustini, to manage their winery. In 1955 Abraham died and his three children inherited the farm. One son ran the farm while a daughter moved away to France, and Siggy Michelson moved with his wife and four children into a small residence where our present reception area stands.
Over the past 20 years the building has been extended on numerous occasions and has also changed hands several times. The most recent owner prior to Sir Richard Branson was Erwin Schnitzler, a German hotelier and Miko Rwayitare, who took possession of the hotel and winery which at the time was called ‘La Couronne’.
La Couronne Hotel and Restaurant was severely damaged by a fire in February 2006. After a period of repair and renovation, Messieurs Rwayitare and Schnitzler used the opportunity to merge the hotel and the neighbouring Mont Rochelle Mountain Vineyards to create ‘Mont Rochelle Hotel and Mountain Vineyards’. Mr Rwayitare was the first black owner of a vineyard in South Africa and the vineyard’s premium wine was named after him – as well as the current main restaurant.
Mont Rochelle was purchased by Sir Richard Branson in 2014 and joined the exclusive Virgin Limited Edition collection which includes Necker Island and Moskito Island in the British Virgin Islands, Kasbah Tamadot in Morocco, Mahali Mzuri in Kenya, The Lodge in Verbier, Son Bunyola in Mallorca and Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in South Africa. After an extensive period of refurbishment the hotel began welcoming guests in September 2014.