Waterford Estate’s Ord and Arnold families are well known, but scattered among the staff are other interesting families. Bernie and Hendrik Engelbrecht share their story.
It’s a week before Christmas, and the courtyard at Waterford Estate is stylishly decorated: branches, twigs, paper stars and wreaths made of “kooigoed” (aromatic herbs traditionally used to stuff mattresses) hang from the eaves. On each table, there’s a fresh flower posy.
Evidence of strong family bonds can be seen everywhere – from the Arnold family dogs that play in the citrus orchards to the Ord and Arnold family names that feature prominently on the wines. And, if you linger long enough, you’ll learn that many of the staff members around you also form close-knit families.
One such example is Bernie and Hendrik Engelbrecht, a marvellous couple who has been part of the Waterford “family” right from the start.
Bernie and Hendrik first met Waterford Estate managing partner and cellar master Kevin Arnold at Rust en Vrede Estate, where Kevin spent 10 years establishing the Rust en Vrede brand. When, in 1997, Kevin left Rust en Vrede to start Waterford Estate with Jeremy Ord, Bernie and Hendrik jumped at the chance to be part of the new adventure.
“There was nothing here then,” remembers Bernie, who patiently worked her way up from farm hand to tasting-room assistant, co-decorator (her partner and mentor is Heather Arnold, Kevin’s wife) and florist at the Estate. “We had to start by planting the vineyards, and then we built the cellar. We gradually built the Estate up to what it is now.”
Hendrik also started out as a farm hand. But, through hard work and dedication, he was promoted to store manager. He also now manages the labelling process with the help of a team (all Waterford Estate wines are bottled on the premises).
“Waterford did me a massive favour by giving me a chance to prove myself,” Hendrik says, noting that Kevin played a key role in helping him to grow on both a personal and professional level since he started out at Waterford in 1997. Now, Hendrik is a leader in his own right – in the store room and among the farm community.
Bernie’s days are busy, too: her mornings usually start with the flower arrangements. She painstakingly checks that all the posies are ready, and that the tasting room and courtyard is spotlessly clean. “The look and feel must be perfect,” she says.
Then she bakes bread for the wine drives, which start at 10am. Bernie also helps with the tastings, keeping a beady eye on her colleagues. On some days, she takes time to walk through the vineyards, gardens and orchards to pick flowers and fynbos for her displays.
Bernie and Hendrik just celebrated their 23rd Christmas together. Their two sons (one of whom also works on the Estate) and two granddaughters spent the holidays with them. “We always enjoy Christmas together as a family,” Bernie says. “But, while it’s important for us to be together as a family, I don’t always feel like cooking. Some years, we book a spot at a restaurant and spend the day there.”
The family’s favourite meal is Bernie’s legendary lasagne and, on Sundays, they usually braai after spending part of the morning at church where Hendrik is a pastor. On Saturday afternoons, Hendrik, Bernie and many of the other families who live on the farm hop on a truck to see the Waterford soccer team in action – a fun way of relaxing after a busy week.
The couple’s advice for those who haven’t visited Waterford Estate yet? “Come and spend the day with us. It’s really peaceful here, and you can linger as long as you’d like to,” Bernie says. “Back when we just started out, there were only bushes,” Hendrik adds. “Just look at it all now – it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”