Summer mornings on Summerfields Estate are gentle; the light soft and forgiving, the ambient air-temperature just right. One is drawn outside, almost hypnotically, by the chorus of bird sounds drifting down from the treetops, and the feeling that, though there is much to see and do, everything will happen in its own good time.
On the highest point of the estate stands a proud and grand African Flame tree. Its branches are wide and outstretched, its shade generous and inviting. Below it, in one grand sweep of hillside lies the estate, all the way down to the gushing waters of the Sabi River.
Strolling down the hill from this point, one could pass by the pond, home to a boisterous family of geese and their goslings, then through an organically spaced grove of papaya trees; one could turn right to see a bed of the most beautifully twisted granadilla vines, and pass alongside the tunnel of blooming roses, through the tall dark trees of the macadamia orchards and finally one would stumble upon the protagonists of this story: the treasured litchi trees of Summerfields Estate.
When the owners of the estate bought Summerfields in 2002 they were somewhat ambivalent towards these tropical perennials. But when the first harvest dawned on them that December and the bright red fruits were ripe and heavy, they responded whole-heartedly, laboured tirelessly - every child, relative, friend and canine involved - and so began a decade of summers drenched in the sweet sticky abundance of the litchi harvest. Over the years as their memories of the litchi harvest grew, so the business potential of the crop declined. Litchis are a tricky and risky export, summer down-pours ruin fruit longevity, prices are low and inconsistent and the harvest peaks over the festive season when many businesses close down, resulting in troughs of litchis left to ferment as they wait for market.
In 2016 a decision was made to pull out all the litchi groves in favour of another high yielding, consistent and lucrative macadamia orchard. While this decision made absolute cold-hearted business sense, it left the owners with an uneasy and mournful feeling. For in these groves echo the joyful sounds of children climbing trees in search for the darkest fruit on the highest branches; the banter of women as they sit in a circle of shade sorting through the yield, and the whistles of a farmer calling his hound back after a mock-hunt.
When, in June 2017, a physician-friend suggested distilling the litchis to make a gin, the owners of the estate were stunned by the brilliance of such an idea: Surely there could be no better reinterpretation of the litchis of Summerfields, where a slow and savoured sun-set drink is the most routinely practiced and ritualized activity of them all. Unlike the tropics where sunsets are gone before one even knows that they have begun, subtropical sunsets linger on for hours. Time almost pauses as the world slows down, grows calmer still, the sweet smell of potato bush intensifies and the sky sets alight, blood red and golden. The homes, restaurants and forest rooms of Summerfields are so designed that interiors spill-out onto raised decks that in turn merge with the natural vegetation surrounding them. Lounge chairs and the soothing, untiring hum of beetles compel one to embrace this lull in time and recline obligingly, with an ice-cold gin and tonic in hand, of course.
More on the birth of Duke Gin to follow…………………