‘Hi, my name’s Gert van Wyk but everyone in Kakamas calls me ‘Randy’. I’ve been working at Die Mas since I left school.” Die Mas is a winery on the banks of the Orange River that produces a range of red and white wines. It is much better known for the award-winning brandies it has bottled from grapes grown on the sprawling farm since 2014. ThirtyVan Wyk, 32, has been part of the process the entire time.
When the oom who “taught him the business” died in 2017, Van Wyk moved up in the cellar hierarchy and, as a consequence, had to mentor someone to assist him. “We would be together from six in the morning till midnight every day to ensure everything was done properly.” That’s right, Randy makes you brandy. Specifically, he helps winemaker André Landman with the fiveyear matured potstill blend known as Die Kalahari Truffel as well as the three year old called Ver in die Ou Kalahari. Both are doubledistilled in limited quantities over open flame in a traditional copper still before being left to age. Die Mas also very recently released – I was given the first bottle – another three-year-old product, Braai Brandewyn, which a friend and I mauled in appropriate fashion with steak and ‘wors a few hundred metres from the stupendous Augrabies Falls.
The harsh Northern Cape is not the first place you’d think to visit in South Africa if you’re into winetasting, especially if you’re more familiar with lush places such as Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. However, the Orange River (known in these parts as the Gariep) in good years not only brings water aplenty but also bears huge quantities of soil from fertile regions upriver and dumps these onto the rocky floodplains that line its banks. This makes the Upington-Keimoes-Kakamas region ideal for fruit cultivation and, over decades, it has become famous for its raisins and sultanas.
The heat of the Northern Cape means grapes ripen quickly and have a high sugar content. Some years ago – so I was told – one of the country’s largest brandy-making concerns faced escalating demand and its local suppliers in the Western Cape suppliers jacked up the prices of their grapes to increase profits. The company started looking for alternative sources of cultivation and its eyes alit on the Northern Cape; an inspiration that led to creation of the Orange River Co-op. The company had a new, less expensive source of high-quality Pictures: Jim Freeman fruit but, unintended consequences being what they are, some of the suppliers decided to start brandymaking as a sideline.
aking as a sideline. First of these was Bezalel (Hebrew for “in the shadow of God”) Wine and Brandy Estate which lies near the gargantuan solar array between Upington and Keimoes. The area is called Cannon Island in commemoration of the fate of a gang of river pirates whose island hideout came under fire from the Cape Field Artillery in 1879. The pirates decided to reply in like fashion, hollowing out a palm trunk before filling it with gunpowder and shot, pointing it in the direction of the Brits and touching flame to the fuse.
The whole damn thing exploded, killing more pirates (including their chief) than the Cape Field Artillery had.I digress.
He’s handed over the reins to his son Martiens, who did not study viticulture and oenology at Stellenbosch University but fine arts. A typical Millennial, he monitors and controls the process from his cellphone.
In order to start distilling, one of the pioneers of brandy-making in the Northern Cape and current pater familias at Bezalel, Inus Bezuidenhout, had to build his own stills. These were registered in Upington for excise and Inus treasures the licences for three of the first four locally manufactured “kettles”
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FOOD AND DRINK