About 30km north of Upington on the N14, just when you think the vast "nothingness" so typical of the Northern Cape is never going to end, right there lie the green vineyards of Bezalel Wine & Brandy Estate.
Bezalel, which is on the Green Kalahari's Quiver Tree Route, is the perfect stop for a quick lunch and a brandy or wine tasting (passengers only, of course) when you're on a road trip in the Northern Cape. You can even buy some gifts, as the estate stocks not only wine and brandy but a variety of homemade jams and preserves too.
The province is full of surprises and its excellent wine is one of them, says passionate wine and brandy maker Martiens Bezuidenhout. Four generations of Bezuidenhouts have been farming in the area since the 1940s, planting their first grapes in the 1960s.
People think the Western Cape equals wine, but, says Martiens, the first grapes were actually planted in the region known today as Iran, in an area as arid and dry as the Northern Cape.
According to him, vineyards adapt easily to different growth conditions and it helps that "the guys in the Kalahari are quite stubborn".
Martiens doesn’t only let you taste his wines; he passionately discusses every small detail, explaining the impact of wind, sun and water on the grapes. "You can’t make a good wine from bad grapes ... The grape determines what the product will taste like."
He explains that the vineyards are ideally situated on a plateau where three geological areas, the Kalahari Basin, the Karoo and the Namaqua region, meet. Because of all the sunshine in the area, grapes ripen far more quickly than in the Western Cape and the yield per hectare is much higher. One has to make sure, however, that the sugar-acid balance is perfect before picking them.
Bezalel also distills and ages its own 100% potstill brandy on the premises.
The estate offers different types of tastings, including a quick pick, which allows you to choose four products to taste from a selection of boutique wines, potstill brandies and infusions.
Depending on what's available, the wines include a colombard (a refreshing white wine with a grapefruit and guava character), a viognier (a white wine with a floral and herby character), a sangiovese (a red wine with an aroma that reminds one of strawberries and raspberries), a natural sweet rosé and a port wine, which has been aged in French oak barrels for a minimum of five years.
The "highlight" tasting experience allows you to taste a wider variety of Bezalel's most popular products, and you can also order cheese and preserve platters with the tasting.
The full tasting, for which booking is essential, includes a walk-through of the cellar and distillery, and includes samples of Bezalel's full range of products.
Bezalel's Garden Café is the perfect spot to have lunch after a few hours on the road, whether you'd like to enjoy a cheese platter, a traditional South African meal like bobotie or a chicken or lamb pot pie, or something sweet and decadent like a chocolate and marshmallow jaffle or what the menu claims to be "the world's best malva pudding".
The fresh produce used at the Garden Café is either grown on the farm or sourced from nearby farmers and local vendors.
Bezalel is open on weekdays from 8.30am to 5.30pm and from 9am to 3pm on Saturdays for tastings and sales. It's closed on Sundays, Good Friday, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.