Agri dynamo

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If there’s one thing this farmer likes to see broken, it’s new ground.

As the man who had the vision to establish the first and only vineyard within the small Bamboes Bay ward, the name Jan van Zyl will forever be synonymous with Fryer’s Cove winery.

Known far and wide as Jan Ponk to distinguish him from the legions of Jan van Zyls on the West Coast, he and his father Ponk planted the first 6 ha of the Fryer’s Cove vineyards 500 m from the ocean’s edge on their Doringbaai farm in 1999. It was a decidedly uphill battle from the kick-off. In this drought-prone area which had no natural desalinated water source, they also had to contend with ferocious wind and stormy seas.

But as they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. To cut a long story short, Jan himself built a 29,5 km pipeline from Vredendal, allocating water from the pipeline to farmers in exchange for allowing the pipeline on their land.

Producing their first stunning set of cool-climate commercial wines in 2001, Fryer’s Cove wines – especially the Sauvignon Blanc – became quite the success story. “But gradually, things became too much to handle on my own,” he explained. “So while looking for a marketing partner in 2020, I had a once-in-lifetime purchase offer from DGB. Luckily, it wasn’t quite the sad farewell to my lifelong dream and hobby, because I’m still on the marketing team.”

Far-sighted as ever, Jan also spearheaded Fryer’s Cove’s investment in the postcard-pretty Jetty Restaurant at Doringbaai harbour as a community venture. And to this day, Fryer’s Cove owns a third of the shares in conjunction with the Doringbaai Community Trust and Blue Ocean Primary Co-op.

Another project he tackled as a first in South Africa was importing New Zealand saffron corms to plant on 1 000 m2. “At the outset, the plants grew and flowered well, but sadly our nights weren’t cold enough. By year six our total harvest was a paltry 60 grams. I’m afraid the time had come to call it quits. However, the beneficial spin-off was that over the years I could give qualified advice on saffron growing to Karoo farmers who have the ideal climatic conditions for this temperature-sensitive crop.”

On his other farm in Vredendal, Jan is a prolific farmer. His vineyards supply grapes to Namaqua Wines, he farms with sheep, grows sweet potatoes, as well as seed potatoes for McCains. Oh, not forgetting his pride and joy: a stand-out Simmentaler herd. “When I need to calm my mind, I zone out by having a good heart-to-heart with my cattle crew.”

Believing in taking weighted chances for another iron in the fire, Jan confirmed that he’s always on the lookout for rewarding opportunities. “After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

FAST FACTS
To relax, I light a fire and drink a glass of wine
My sport is walking my dogs, Border Collie Spud & Yster, “who was made on a Friday from thoroughbred dog spares”
As spectator, I love watching rugby
Pet place on the West Coast is Zevenputs (between Doringbaai and Lamberts Bay)
Best restaurant is Muisbosskerm in Lambertsbaai
I love eating steak
My signature drink is any good Sauvignon Blanc
On TV I enjoy watching Air Crash Investigation