Waddling Winemakers on Parade in Stellenbosch, South Africa

A fun and innovative winery near Stellenbosch, South Africa uses a 1,000-strong duck brigade to help eradicate vineyard pests.

In South Africa’s Cape Winelands, winemakers at the Vergenoegd Wine Estate have all their ducks in a row — literally.

More than 1,000 Indian runner ducks can be found on the estate. These feathered friends have been an integral part of the winery’s pest management program for decades, as they gobble up snails, slugs, and bugs from the vineyard.

Today, daily parades featuring the animals attract visitors — young and old — to the wine farm’s scenic grounds near Stellenbosch.

When Shawn, his parents, and I spent two weeks exploring the Western Cape, we headed to Vergenoegd to see the ducks in action. We found the “running of the ducks” parade experience to be so enjoyable that we visited twice. Our first visit coincided with the wine farm’s busy Saturday Family Market. The next visit was on a quiet weekday afternoon.

The Duck Parade

From the moment we arrived at Vergenoegd, the ducks’ celebrity was evident. Life-sized duck decoys adorned the property’s gates. Wine bottles were labeled with the “Runner Ducks” brand. Vendors selling artisanal jam, houseplants, and beaded animals worked the likenesses of ducks into their displays, too.

Crowds assembled around the duck parade route, snagging prime viewing spots before the ducks made their debut.

Just when the level of anticipation couldn’t feel more palpable, the ducks finally neared the grassy stage. They timidly peeked their heads out from around the foliage, watching for their human handler’s signal to start walking and waddling.

Then, all of a sudden, quacks were audible. Feathers danced in the air. Spectators wore wide grins and feverishly snapped photos of the wave-like mass. With thousands of webbed feet having just stomped by, a cyclone of dirt passed through the area.

Just like South Africa’s multicultural population (the country is sometimes referred to as the Rainbow Nation), the ducks were diverse in appearance. Emerald-green, brown and white feathers combined with yellow and grey beaks to make up the flock’s greater whole.

By the time the ducks had woven their way past the winery’s whitewashed manor house, the performance complete, all that was left behind were tiny footprints.

I thought it was appropriate that the happy spectacle took place underneath the pretty building’s gable. On it, the name “Vergenoegd” was emblazoned in 1773. (Vergenoegd is the Dutch word for “content” or “cheerful.”)

The ducks, led by their trainers and handlers, then assembled en masse behind the property. There, Vergenoegd’s animal handlers sold paper bags full of duck-friendly nibbles. Children convinced parents to buy them a bag or two, so they could help feed the animals. A friendly local even gave me a few pellets so I could join in the fun.

After the feathered animals had retreated to their private quarters, we tasted wine while seated at picnic tables placed underneath handsome old trees. (I liked Vergenoegd’s Sauvignon Blanc and the Port wine the best.)

I also enjoyed chatting with a husband and wife from Zimbabwe who were selling animal sculptures fashioned out of wire and colorful beads. Rainbow-hued rhinos, giraffes, and of course ducks, filled their outdoor display.

Meeting Vergenoegd’s Duck Manager

A few days later, we returned to Vergenoegd on a quiet weekday. In contrast to our visit on Saturday, we almost had the property to ourselves. This allowed me to chat with several of the humans who manage the feisty flock of ducks.

Simon, the Duck Manager — who jokingly called himself the “duck whisperer” — told us that the ducks were originally imported from India 35 years earlier. With the population having since reproduced on its own, there’s no need to import ducks. In fact, Vergenoegd sometimes provides ducks to other farms in the area.

A Sustainable Approach to Reducing Vineyard Pests

We learned that during the winter months, Vergenoegd’s ducks gobble up snails and slugs among the vines. They’re not allowed to go into the vineyards during the summer though, as they would devour the plump grapes.

Simon explained that younger ducks start out in a smaller “crew” and eventually meet the larger group. This helps them learn the ropes of vineyard pest patrol.

Vergenoegd’s ducks work in a zigzag pattern on a different area of the vineyard each week.

In addition to the nutrition they get from the snails and slugs they feast upon, the ducks’ diet is supplemented by nutrient-rich pellets.

According to Vergenoegd’s website, the ducks help minimize the use of chemicals in the vines.

Vergenoegd has WWF biodiversity certification. In addition, the wine farm has even established the Vergenoegd Waterbird Habitat Project, which helps support indigenous waterbird populations.

Have you seen any innovative pest management practices in place near you? If so, I’d love to hear about them.

A flock of 1000+ ducks assembles before the Duck Parade at the Vergenoegd Winery near Stellenbosch, South Africa. Mountains and vines are visible off in the distance.

Rows of vines at the Vergenoegd Wine Estate, near Stellenbosch. The wine farm is well-known for its resident ducks, which help to combat pests.
The winery’s vineyards, with rugged peaks in the background.
Dramatic mountains frame the autumn-hued landscape near the Vergenoegd Winery, near Cape Town, South AFrica.
Dramatic mountains frame the autumn-hued landscape.

A Vergenoegd

Market day at a South African winery.
Guests mingle near picnic tables, stopping by Saturday market stands as they await the ducks’ arrival.
A building's gable in the Dutch Cape architectural style at the Vergenoegd Winery near Stellenbosch, South Africa.
The winery’s architecture is in the Cape Dutch style. This manor house, which has a thatch roof, dates back to 1773 (Anno 1773). (Vergenoegd is the Dutch word for “content” or “cheerful.”)
Vergenoegd Winery wine duck parade Stellenbosch South Africa
Of course, some of the wine is branded with the duck parade in mind (left). This is a bottle of Runner Duck 2016 Sauvignon Blanc. On the right, an easel with the schedule of the day’s duck parades.
Vergenoegd Winery Duck Parade Stellenbosch South Africa
The ducks prepare to make their grand appearance.
Spectators watch a procession of runner ducks at the Vergenoegd Winery near Stellenbosch, South Africa.
And they’re off! — much to the delight of spectators.

duck parade South Africa wine country Vergenoegd Wine Estate Stellenbosch

Indian Runner Ducks
Many of the Runner Ducks had similar feather coloring and markings. However, some of the ducks — like the one in the center whose feathers almost resembled a powdered wig — stood out from the crowd.

Spectators of all ages watch — and photograph — the duck parade at Stellenbosch's Vergenoegd Winery.

A spectator feeds a duck at the Vergenoegd Winery duck parade near Stellenbosch, South Africa.
After the parade, a young visitor feeds several lucky runner ducks.
An employee of the Vergenoegd Wine Estate herds geese, with Indian Runner Ducks in the background.
An employee of the Vergenoegd Wine Estate herds geese, with the Indian runner ducks in the background.
Runner Ducks at a winery near Cape Town, South Africa.
Cape Town’s Table Mountain, off in the distance.
The procession of runner ducks at South Africa's Vergenoegd Wine Farm.
The procession makes its way around the winery’s manor house.
Vergenoegd Winery duck handlers
These teammates manage the flock of 1,000+ ducks.
Vergenoegd Winery South Africa festival beaded animals for sale
At the winery’s Saturday market, vendors from Zimbabwe sell animal sculptures shaped out of twisted metal wire.
Vergenoegd Winery Stellenbosch South Africa festival jam for sale
A vibrant variety of jam for sale at the Saturday market.
Houseplants for sale Duck Parade
Houseplants for sale at the market.
Vergenoegd Winery wine tasting duck procession
Wine tasting (left) and a lone bird (right).

Shawn’s Video:

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • The Vergenoegd Löw Wine Estate is located roughly 35 km (22 miles) from Cape Town and 20 km (13 miles) from the town of Stellenbosch.
  • The duck parades take place three times per day (10:30, 12:30, and 15:30), every day of the week. Visit Vergenoegd’s website for the duck parade schedule to be sure there are no changes.
  • We spent two wonderful weeks exploring the Western Cape, and stayed at the Beau Belle Guest Cottages (affiliate link). Set amid the lush vineyards of the Stellenbosch area, the accommodation was situated behind a gated fence on a wine-growing estate. Our cottage had two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a fully-equipped kitchen, washer and dryer. The location was perfect for day trips to the Western Cape’s wineries, Cape of Good Hope, Simon’s Town, Cape Town, and more. A shopping complex — including supermarkets — was a 10-minute drive. When we weren’t exploring the area by car, we loved walking among the Beau Belle vineyards, strolling past the property’s goose-filled pond. We also spent relaxing hours sitting on our outdoor terrace and enjoying meals, or a glass of wine. Shawn and his parents wine-tasted on site, too.
  • Peruse my mini South Africa guide for more tips. Likewise, browse my South Africa posts.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All rights reserved. My husband, Shawn, created the video.

14 thoughts on “Waddling Winemakers on Parade in Stellenbosch, South Africa

    1. Hi Tony, I do, too. This activity ended up being one of our favorite memories from our time near Cape Town. It goes to show that things can be environmentally-friendly, and fun too. Thank you for your comment, and enjoy the rest of the weekend.

    1. Hi Darlene, they’re irresistibly cute, and beneficial to the wine estate and the consumers of the wine — such a great combo.

      In Germany, my parents have a few neighbors who own ducks and let them roam in their gardens. There are a plethora of snails and slugs in their part of Bavaria, so the ducks help keep garden greenery intact. It’s fun seeing the ducks patrolling for these critters.

      As for finding this unique winery, Shawn gets all the credit. We visited in 2017, but I’m glad to see that Vergenoegd’s duck parades are still going strong, even 2 years later.

      Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

      1. Interesting to hear about the farmers’ use of alpacas there! I’ve noticed a handful of llamas living here in Bavaria. Not the first creature I’d expect in the German Alps. :)

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