Nearby farms: Orange River Cellars ,
Orange River Wine Route
The four wineries comprising the Orange River Wine Route in the arid Northern Cape are dotted over more than 350 kilometres, but all are close to the Gariep (Orange) River, whose micro-climate and soils enable the growth of the grapes. Their mainly white wines have a wide appeal across tastes and pockets, and cover the gamut from dry to naturally sweet, sparkling and dessert. This region is known for its wide-open spaces, breathtaking sunsets and starry nights.
South Africa's winelands are very different places. For the wine explorer, that's an exciting prospect but it's easy to be caught unaware. In the Cape, Klein Karoo and even KwaZulu-Natal, wine experiences are all within a relatively short drive from each other. In the Northern Cape – SA's most expansive and sparsely populated province - you'll need some extra planning.
Although a powerhouse of wine grape farming, the Northern Cape has only a handful of independent winery experiences in a radius of some 350km from Upington epicentre. By comparison, that same radius applied to Stellenbosch incorporates virtually every other South African wine business located from the Klein Karoo to the Olifants River region of the West Coast.
Wine is not the only reason to visit the region, of course. "The Orange and Vaal Rivers merge here and it's a sight to behold," says local winemaker Ian Sieg. "There are also glaciated pavements some 290 million years old that you can visit."
The Northern Cape's Orange River Cellars is by far the biggest in South Africa and one of the largest in the world. Established in 1965, it now comprises four wineries that take in grapes from farms spread over 300kms along the Orange River. It is a major source of distilling wine for amongst others, South Africa's award-winning brandies.
From a visitor's perspective, the best place to start is the home of Orange River Cellars in Upington.
On the outskirts of Upington lies Bezalel, a small wine and brandy estate that takes advantage of the Orange River's fertile alluvial soils at Dyasonsklip. A landmark of its location is the massive solar plant and tower mirror that's visible to anyone approaching from kilometres away.
Following Bezalel's footsteps as a private cellar, Die Mas (Afrikaans for The Mast) registered in 2005 and became Kakamas's first although the farm had been in the Hanekom family since 1970. The hamlet itself lies further along past Bezalel and some 80km southwest of Upington.
Here, the landmark indicator is the Pink Padstal (farm stall) located a few metres from the entrance to the farm while the drive to the cellar takes the visitor through the vineyards and along a life-giving irrigation canal.
Landzicht has been producing wine for some time; grapes were first planted along this section of the Orange River in the 1990s. Awareness of its existence was however suddenly re-awakened last year when judges at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show (OMTWS) voted the Landzicht 2015 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon as Best in South Africa. It has two cellars - one located at Douglas, the other 120km east, at Jacobsdal in the Free State. Both are approximately an hour's drive south of Kimberley and have their own dedicated wine tasting rooms. Cellar tours are offered at Douglas.
- Visitors can taste line-ups of five to seven wines at Orange River Cellars, and purchase wine to enjoy in the centre garden. The offering includes sparkling wine, craft beer made by Kalahari Craft Beer and Die Mas brandy and gin.
- Enjoy locally sourced olives, meats, a cheese platter as well as wine ice-cream from the pairing menu. Visitors can also curate their own platter by selecting components and wines that appeal to them.
- An audio-visual presentation is available, providing a virtual tour of the winery's operations and has been adapted with animation to be multilingual.
- Bezalel offers various visitor-related activities alongside the tasting room: a restaurant, wedding and conference venue.
- Its tasting room is home to two 660-litre copper potstills that produce the brandy as well as other fruit distillations.
- Visitors are encouraged to pop in to taste the wares, but also to enjoy a meal at the Bezalel Garden Café restaurant & brewhouse.
- A new gin still is currently being installed at Die Mas alongside the 1000-litre copper pot still that produces the brandy, plus new gins are in the pipeline too.
- A popular seller at the visitor centre is the brandy and chocolate pairing, which is often served on the deck overlooking the vineyards.
- Beyond just tasting however, Die Mas offers more reasons to visit. It has guest accommodation, a campsite and a river boat for excursions when conditions allow.
- The Landzicht tasting room offers brandy and gin – both launched a few years ago and distilled from its own fruit.
- The stuff of bucket lists, your trip should include a visit to the Augrabies Falls National Park, known as the place of great noise and home to South Africa's largest waterfall.
- Head up to the hot spring at Riemvasmaak on the northern bank of the Orange River or for a more active pursuit, go river rafting with one of the local operators.
- The Kokerboom Food and Wine Route lends itself to combining two passions: tasting your way through the region and photographing the natural landscape, particularly the iconic Kokerboom or Quiver Tree.
From Vine to Glass: South African Wine & Traceability
In the Middle Ages wax seals were used to authenticate documents. South Africa’s own sustainability wine seal does a similar job. The seal guarantees that the information on the bottle label about the variety, vintage and origin of the wine is accurate and that the wine has been grown and made in an environmentally friendly way. To date, South Africa is the only country in the world with such an all-encompassing guarantee.
The Journey of a Grape
The journey from vine to glass is a matter of science and circumstance. There are a wide number of species of vines which bears a variety of grapes, known as varietals. Each varietal, affected by soil type, climate, wind, farming practices and other factors produces various characteristics.
Tshepang Molisana shares the journey of a grape from vine to wine glass with us.