Down Brandy Lane
BMW F650GS on Route 62
Join Jim Freeman as he travels the Brandy Route along the R62 on his BMW F650GS, sampling some of the best brandies in the country along the way.
Brandy apart, the R62 is made for motorcycling. The surfaces are good almost all the way to Oudtshoorn and the stretch into Barrydale sweeps through beautiful pastures and vineyards.
Few people know this, but the “Father of Afrikaans”, CJ Langenhoven, was an avid road tripper in his day more than a century ago. So keen was he, in fact, that he would saddle his horse each Friday and ride out from Oudtshoorn to Grundheim farm where his friends, the Grundling family, made brandy and mampoer.
Grundheim is one of the final ports of call for a friend and I as well when we take on the R62 Brandy Route, a 300 km run from Robertson to De Rust, which includes mainstream and boutique distilleries such as Klipdrift, Kingna, Barrydale Cellars, Ladismith Cellars, Boplaas, and Grundheim. For obvious reasons, the route is best explored over three or more days. Unlike Langenhoven, however, my friend and I will be doing the route on motorcycles, Pete on his BMW 1200GS and I on my BMW F650GS.
Everyone in South Africa (brandy fan or not) knows of Klipdrift, situated right in the middle of Robertson. Unprepossessingly industrial from the road, it is a joy once you enter the tasting room, with walls abounding with clocks stopped at Klipdrift’s trademark two-minutes-past-eight (the exact time
on 4 May 1938 when Klipdrift was first produced by brandy-master and farmowner, JP “Kosie” Marais). My favourite decorations, though, are what I can only describe as spinneklippies: miniature bottles of Klipdrift with wire legs that make them look like alcoholic spiders.
We are presented with mini tastingplatters – sweet and savoury items – paired with each of the brand’s four best-known products; Klipdrift Export, Premium, Gold, and the cola pre-mix. There is also a restaurant at the distillery, Brandewyntuin, where visitors can enjoy brandy cocktails as they dine on hearty pub-grub in a lush garden.we choose to forego the cocktails – we still have some riding to do – but our burgers were delicious.
Our next stop, Kingna, is named after one of the rivers that flows through the area. It is not far away and lies on a short but wonderfully scenic back road off the R62 a few kilometres outside Montagu.we pulled up moments before a deluge commenced and were greeted warmly by owner Norbert Engel and brandy master Ruan Hunlan (an ex-diesel mechanic). Needless to say, they immediately pressed glasses of brandy into our hands.
We spent the first night of our roadtrip (an exceptionally good idea, especially after a very convivial braai) at the four-bedroomed self-catering Fish Eagle Cottage at Kingna. But, first were treated to a cellar-sampling of some of the pair’s offerings, including an experimental (but non-commercial) slivovitz as the rain pounded the tin roof.
The torrential but brief downpour had caused the Kingna River to push through at more than its usual placid pace and we came upon it very unexpectedly in the dusk on our way to the cottage.the two bikes had no problems with the fording.we, however, got soaked.
Feeling surprisingly perky the next morning, we took to the road once more. Brandy apart, the R62 is made for motorcycling.the surfaces are good almost all the way to Oudtshoorn and the stretch into Barrydale sweeps through beautiful pastures and vineyards. It is fast and exhilarating. There are a number of dining options along this stretch; Karoo Saloon is a favourite with Boland bikers on their Sunday breakfast runs, but we opt for the Country Pumpkin in Barrydale itself. The “Pump” is also extremely biker-friendly and riders are greeted with a free glass of local muscadel while lazing on surprisingly comfortable and attractive chairs made from old tyres.
Barrydale Cellar is one of the most under-rated distilleries in the country but, their Joseph Barry label is gaining enormous traction among discerning brandy drinkers. Maker Ferdi Smit has been in the industry for most of his adult life, beginning his career by distilling moonshine at an illegal still. He hilariously recounts how he wrote his final matric exams after pulling guard duty at the still the whole night before.
From Barrydale, we head off to Calitzdorp with the obligatory stop at Ronnie’s Sex Shop for something cold and a look to see whether there is any interesting addition to the lingerie collection hanging from the ceiling.
There is not, so we soon make our way to the four-star Calitzdorp Country House and check in for the night. Heading back towards Barrydale the next morning, we turn off into Seweweekspoort, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful dirt roads in the Karoo. It is a relatively easy ride but, to my astonishment, the F650GS handles it better than the 1200. Bigger might be better when it comes to long tar stretches on a roadtrip but the opposite applies when you set out on the gritty stuff.
Finally, we arrive at Grundheim. We are feeling pretty “brandied out” but Dys Grundling is entertaining and our tiredness is soon forgotten. Grundheim was established six generations of Grundling ago with the sole focus of stoking witblits.their product was transported to Kimberley by wagon to assuage the thirsty diamond-diggers. Apart from brandy, Grundheim still makes a range of witblits-based liqueurs, including one fiery variant flavoured with chilli.
Neither of us was fool enough to try it. We still have a way to ride, we lied …