Hidden Valley Farm bought over by former Capitec Bank chief executive

HIDDEN FARM, one of two properties making up the award-winning Hidden Valley wine brand in the Helderberg, has been sold. The second farm, Lands End at Elim, remains for now the property of Dave Hidden.

Hidden Farm, perched high above the Annandale Road between Somerset West and Stellenbosch, was bought by former Capitec Bank chief executive Riaan Stassen as a going concern. This includes the winery, oil- and table olive business as well as the popular restaurant, Overture.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to sell,” admits Dave Hidden, “because it meant letting go of a dream I’ve had for the last 50 years. I can truly say it was a decision that was dictated by the head and not the heart.”

Dave Hidden, 66, confirmed that the farm name as well as the Hidden Valley brand name would be retained. Current staff will remain.

“I love new experiences and challenges. That’s partly the reason I bought Hidden Valley,” says new owner Riaan Stassen, who moved onto an adjoining property, Hillside, sometime after retiring from Capitec.

“When I heard Hidden Valley was up for sale, I came to take a look and immediately fell in love with the place.

“It was a very spontaneous decision to buy. I might have been a chartered accountant by profession but I operate very differently from a chartered accountant: I don’t believe in analysis-paralysis.”

Riaan Stassen says he invited a good friend, Nick van Huysteen of Saronsberg wines in Tulbagh, for lunch at Overture restaurant and told him of his desire to purchase Hidden Valley as a going concern. He received an enthusiastic thumbs-up in response.

“The whole process – from my first look to Dave Hidden signing his acceptance of my offer to purchase took no more than two weeks.

“I think that, from a marketing point of view, one can do something really special here; combining good wine, good food and art… preferably sculpture. The underlying theme will be nature and this wonderful natural forest that rises up from Hillside to the ‘hidden valley’.”

Riaan Stassen says the challenges facing him are “not completely foreign to me, given that I was in the liquor industry with Distillers for 14 years – ending up as operations director.”

Dave Hidden’s love affair with the 30 hectare farm on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountains began while he was studying at Stellenbosch University in 1968. The legendary viticulture Professor, Chris Orffer, would often point out the Helderberg slopes to me “He would wave towards these slopes and say: ‘Up there is the best vineyard soil in the world’.” And we visited the site.

On graduation, Dave Hidden joined Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery as a management trainee in its viticulture division, then left to go into business and complete an MBA at UCT.

He returned to the wine industry in 1995 “and then, in 1998, my old friend Jeremy Walker from Grangehurst showed me this same portion of land I’d looked at three decades before. Jeremy told me the property was on the market and I grabbed it. There was nothing here but bush and the awesome vineyard soil Professor Orffer spoke of when I was a student. I knew I could be nothing more than a custodian of this beautiful piece of the Earth for a brief period of time and felt it was my responsibility to ensure that it was turned into a special Hidden destination,” he says.

The planting of the vineyards started in 2002. “We have had great fun building this place and I have always been blessed with having a great team working with me.” Past and present wine-maker Annelie van Dyk, have all worked with beautiful fruit off the farm to ensue great quality wines. Newly retired long-standing viticulturist and farm manager Johan “Grobbie” Grobelaar was instrumentall in setting up and tending the vineyards, olive orchard and almond trees.

“Landscaping magician Lydia Ellis created the magnificent conservation area and surrounding gardens at the cellar and up at the Bush House, the main residence,” he says. “We were recently awarded BWI [Bio-diversity and Wine Initiative] Champion status – one of only 32 farms to achieve this.”

Dave Hidden maintains that the most exciting thing he did as owner was to “put a Lands End Shiraz 2009 in barrel and sink it into the Agulhas current for 15 months and make a limited number of bottles. The wine is magnificent. It achieved highest price at the 40th Nederburg Auction and just missed out on Platter 5 Star status.

He reveals that his decision to sell was prompted by the realisation that “neither of my sons were going to take over from me. It needed to go to someone who shared my vision. “This is a sophisticated operation and I’m sure the new owner will take Hidden Valley to the next level in becoming one of the finest brands in South Africa.”

He has no plans of retiring, though he will almost certainly bow out of the wine industry. My main aim now is to improve my golf and watch my three beautiful granddaughters grow up.”