Bertie Coetzee represents the sixth generation of his family to farm at Lowerland, on the banks of the broad Orange River near Prieska in the Northern Cape.
Let’s not beat around the bush: this is not traditional wine country. The main crops are maize and plump, melt-in-your-mouth pecans, alongside an award-winning beef stud; but in 1999 the first grapevines were planted by Bertie’s father Hennie, literally sowing the seeds for a game changing endeavour continued by Bertie after he joined the farm in 2013.
The desert-like climate is peculiar, being at approximately 29 degrees south so on the outer limits of what’s considered prime viticultural latitude, but the African heat is moderated by over 1,000 metres of altitude and consequentially high diurnal range. Summer rains can be problematic but generally conditions are dry and therefore favourable for organic farming, with the vineyards certified by Ecocert.
Bertie and his team are striving for a holistic, regenerative model of farming, converting all land to organic practices. Bertie has worked tirelessly to put Prieska on the South African wine map and gain approval for Wine of Origin status, a landmark achievement for what is – if anything – a rudimentary bulk wine region.
Vaalkameel (the Grey Camel Thorn bush you see on the label) is made from organic Colombard grapes. These are hand-picked and driven 12 hours south to Stellenbosch, where the wine was made by Lukas van Loggerenberg.
It's an amazing wine, mistaken during a recent blind tasting for top-end South African Chenin Blanc rather than supposedly lowly Colombard! Naturally fermented in old French oak barrels, resting in barrel for a whole year on primary lees. Nothing added really, no finings or suchlike, nothing taken away. It's gloriously captivating, everything in balance, intense lime and apple fruit, almonds, and a very long finish.