Ilse and Andre van Heerden became the spirited owners of Summerfields Estate in 2002. After 20 years of stress and busy city living – of 90s parties, married life, urban-triathlons, first homes, various business ventures, kids, high schools and break-away camping trips - they decided to pack up their home in Saxonwold and move to the countryside. Ilse, a landscaper by profession, needed a bigger, grander canvas upon which to dream up a next paradise and Andre’s aviation heart grew increasingly restless in search of a new escapade. The lowveld was an obvious and easy choice to make - in the shadow of the escarpment, with its majestic cascades of greenery, rock-pools and cool forests, lay the nostalgia of many a summer holiday.
Inexperience could not nearly overshadow their enthusiasm as Ilse, Andre, family and an entourage of dogs arrived at their new home. What they envisioned on the slopes of Summerfields was no small undertaking: Roads had to be built, orchards established, natural forest rehabilitated. Within a space of 2 years Ilse and Andre opened a second restaurant on the estate, designed and realized a luxury forest lodge and set up a natural spa - all connected by wooden walkways that wind their way through verdant vegetation beneath a calming canopy of sub-tropical trees. With the evasion of alien species and the rehabilitation of natural stretches of vegetation, indigenous orchids started blooming once again and buck-sightings increased. With every passing season, Summerfields grew increasingly beautiful.
Wild animals weren’t the only ones to multiply and thrive on the estate in these prolific times. Ilse and Andre’s insatiable capacity to adopt and adore animals ensured that their domestic clan grew at a steady pace as well. Indeed it is a rare sight to see either one of them on the estate without a healthy battalion of hounds sniffing, hunting or strutting around them. While each of their 8 dogs have, or have had, their own clever and entertaining idiosyncrasies, there is one in particular whose royal airs, cheeky transgressions and discerning expressions have made him somewhat of an estate mascot and won him the fitting title of Duke of Summerfields.
Duke the Viszla, was born on 30 May and joined the Summerfields tribe in July 2017 - round about the same time that the litchi-gin-idea started taking flight in the minds of Ilse and Andre, and the all-consuming experimental phase took off. Throughout every trial and error, every trip to the distillery, long, slow hours of waiting, Duke’s expectant demeanor and energy kept spirits high, while his questioning frowns translated into “just one more attempt at a slightly varied recipe” and eventually the perfect one.