In 1682 Catharina Michelse, also known as The Widow Ras, asked Simon van der Stel for a portion of ground at the foot of the Ou Kaapse Weg and he agreed to lease 25 Morgen to her. After he became the owner of Groot Constantia in 1685, she asked him for a legal title deed and a mandate was granted to her in 1688 to “cultivate, to plough and to sow and also to possess the farm below the stone mountain.”
The farm’s original name was ‘Swaaneweide’ – The Feeding Place of Swans. Catharina, perhaps overcome by nostalgia for the swans of her native Lübeck Germany, mistook the area’s spur-winged geese for swans. These geese still roam freely on the estate, harking back to Catharina’s day.
According to Baron von Rheede, who visited the farm and was served a luncheon of “radishes and freshly baked bread and beautiful cabbages”, Catharina was a fiercely independent woman, “riding bare-back like an Indian and her children resembling Brazilian cannibals!”
In 1695 Frederik Russouw bought the farm. There to witness the deed were Henning Huising (owner of Meerlust and uncle to Adam Tas) and Hugo Goyes. Russouw was a powerful and wealthy member of the Burger Council and it was he who built the new U-shaped house in 1695. He also made the first wines at Swaaneweide.
Many years later in 1741, the Dutch East India Company decreed that from May to August each year, Simons Bay would be the official winter port, because “the north west winds in Table Bay had been causing untold damage and loss of life.” Because Swaaneweide was exactly one day’s journey from Table Bay and one day’s journey from Simons Bay, this meant that many travellers would be obliged to overnight at the farm.
Christina Diemer (the widow of Frederik Russouw) became the recipient of the highly profitable business of supplying hospitality to travellers and provisions to the fleet. When Christina Diemer died, it was her youngest son, Nicolaas Russouw and his wife Anna Maria Rousselet who inherited the farm. He had received the farm before Christina died and made an agreement to relinquish any further claim on the estate. Nicolaas and his wife had the farm from 1765 to 1801. It was Nicolaas who had the fine new “Holbol” gable built on to the front of the original house, the only one of its kind in the Cape Peninsula.
When Nicolaas died in 1802, his son Daniel bought the farm from his mother, Maria. Due to difficult times and unfortunate circumstances, he sold it to Johannes Adriaan Louw of Fisantekraal (a brother-in-law) and Frederik Anthon Olthoff. The Deed of Sale was legally phrased and cut and dried and a letter appeared before the Master of the Supreme Court in August 1842, stating firmly that the sale to the two sons-in-law, one of whom was Johannes Adriaan Louw, had been legal.
Son of Johannes Adriaan, Nicolaas Louw’s greatest passion was Steenberg. He went straight from school into farming and his three children –Andrew (architect), Jean and Nicolette – inherited the property jointly when he died in 1976. Steenberg remained the property of the Louw family until 1990 when it was purchased by J.C.I (Johannesburg Consolidated Investments), and re-developed into the glorious vineyard and hotel it is today.
Graham Beck bought Steenberg Hotel and Steenberg Winery in April 2005.