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