The Orange River may be considered one of the younger South African table grape regions, but it is clear that it is right at the front line in shaping the industry’s future. This is what Fredo concluded after a week of intensive interviewing for the Story of South African Table Grapes over the past week.
At the end of this visit we are today catching our breath in the Karoo National Park – where looking at Gemsbok, Kudu and Klipspringers provided the ideal change of diet for us. We will write more about this national park later, but it is clear that we will in future probably be back here to spend more time in this rugged mountain area in the centre of our vast Karoo region.
This blog is about table grapes and the people of the Orange River. We heard some fascinating stories, from Blouputs to Kanoneiland –and all along the way we marvelled at the entrepreneurial spirit of those who tamed the heat and rough climate of this part of our country.
Last year the Orange River clearly announced itself as South Africa’s biggest region, when it packed more than 20 million cartons for the first time. It is true to say that they could have packed a few million more if it was not for rain in some regions at the wrong time during the picking season.
This is also not the last time that the region will breach 20 million cartons! From the bottom to the top of this vast region which is fed by the Mighty Orange, or let us be correct by saying the Groot Garieb River, one sees young vineyards everywhere. There will definitely be further growth in the years to come.
This is where South Africa’s quest to expand its grape category beyond the dominance of seeded grapes, which lasted for most of the previous century, started. The old timers spoke with warmth about the early days – even though they were exceedingly difficult years as growers had to come to terms with a new industry with new requirements.
Looking back today one can justify saying that these pioneers in fact saved the South African industry and woke the other regions where grapes were grown out of their slumber.
We also learnt about the tough times most of the older families encountered during the early days of agriculture in this region. Those who lived on the islands of this great river battled for many years to make ends meet. The eventual arrival of table grapes would bring new prosperity beyond what could have been imagined.
On Kanoneiland we found the famous old Canon which is reported to have been used in the troubled years of frontier wars. We also talked about the times when the Groot Garieb came down in flood and disrupted the lives of all those who lived on its banks.
Finally, on our last day, we also had time to watch the wonderful bird life of the river – the Giant Kingfisher turned on a real show as he sat perched on a branch near us, before diving into the river to fish out his lunch.