David Bristow: Hunting the Rare Limpopo Cabernet

By , 18 June 2015

Camel ThornIf you had a dream of creating a lifestyle combining African wildlife with a bit of garagiste winemaking… sorry but that African Ark has sailed. Back in February 2011, News24 Property reported on a 1,200 hectare game farm and winery coming up for auction in the area generally referred to as the Bushveld (more or less the area north of Pretoria and west of the N1).

Some years back I was barreling down the track towards the Waterberg, much like my literary hero Eugene Marais had done about 100 years before.

“An old acquaintance, Dolf Erasmus, met me in Nylstroom [now Modimolle] with a cart and four horses and for the first time in my life I entered Waterberg, the mystery region of my boyhood,” wrote Marais in The Road to Waterberg. “From that wonderland, the hunters; wagons used to come to Pretoria to unload their ivory and skins at the trading stores.” I was trying to emulate Marais’s Waterberg meanderings, but I was alone and had around 300 horses pulling my cart.

Soon after leaving Mookgiphong (the town formerly known as Naboomspruit) in my dust I passed a tract of vineyards reclining behind a two-metre high game-proof fence. Being still early in the morning, and having just previously stopped to load up on biltong at one of numerous comely farm stalls, I did not do a sho’t-left to sample the fruits of those vines – but I regretted it long afterwards.

Imagine my amazement when I later read about a game and wine estate being auctioned off in that neck of the savanna woodlands. I figured it had to be the self-same place I’d seen previously and after some poking around with a snake stick, Professor Google steered me in the direction of Camel Thorn Estate.

Alongside the old “braaivleis, sunny skies and Chevrolet” what could be more emblematically South African than a hunting and wine estate! Eat your hearts out you poncy, check-trousered golf estate habitués; you have not lived till you have done a wine tasting decked in two-tone khaki while snuggled up to a sleek 0.323 Mauser. Arriving here in Bosman country with a Remington or Winchester would be like pitching up to for a wine tasting in Constantia with your wine in a box.

The auction literature claimed the property could produce 400,000 bottles a year from “eight cultivars from vines [that will be] fully established in about two years” – which makes it about now.

If you believed everything you read in the Platter wine guide you would be mistaken for thinking there was no wine-from-grapes being made anywhere north of the Gariep, which I now have proof is not true. But the claim of nearly half a million bottles might have come from the mouth of Bushveld raconteur Oom Schalk Lourens, with whom I have enjoyed many a tipple. The incumbent reckons it’s a more modest 6,000 or so bottles.

There are two accommodation options at Camel Thorn Estate – the main double storey thatched building, with touches of Bosveld Baroque, has seven double suites upstairs and a generous self-catering area downstairs. There is also a tented bush camp with communal ablutions for the more hard-core nature lovers. The estate offers hunts for pros, father-and-son weekends as well as shooting for beginners. Groups more at peace with their inner selves can book a winemaking weekend.

Still planned for the estate are 22 “ecologically respectful” private homes. Which means any dreams you’ve harboured of that wine-and-wildlife afterlife might yet not be a grape harvest too far. Just be sure to keep low when you hear those Mausers warming up. An eland will cost you around R6,500 with a warthog (best marinated overnight) a mere R900. What you cannot fit into a potjie will be vacuum-packed and delivered to your door.

“End your day sipping on a glass of delicious Camel Thorn Cabernet Sauvignon, grown and bottled on the estate,” the estate’s website encourages (there is also a Chenin Blanc). Personally I would opt for a vertical tasting although, given some boys’ weekends I’ve known, I suspect in cases it might revert to a more horizontal experience.
The website concludes by thanking the ladies of the Waterberg for allowing their boys a weekend getaway at Camel Thorn. The boys, apparently, get to stay free when accompanying a partner. Which makes you wonder what those woman from the Waterberg are up to.

I confess I have not yet managed to get my lips around the neck of a Camel Thorn Estate wine bottle, but I have sent scouts north on a quest. Should we find the wine grail of Limpopo I will report back in a hurry.

For the record, na is the Khoi word for the giant candelabra trees (Euphorbia ingens) that grow in great profusion around Modimolle and Mookgiphong. In Afrikaans they became the naboom and hence Naboomspruit. Which in North Sotho (or it could be Pedi, or Ndebele) is the same as Mookgophing. Talk about going around in square circles.

Find out more at camelthornestate.co.za

  • David Bristow has written multiple books and magazine features on travel, nature and African culture. He also one of the Racontours.co.za guides.


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