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The Place of the Lost She-Goat

Bertie Coetzee isn’t just any farmer, he’s a singer/songwriter TURNED bioboertie (his Instagram handle), turned winemaker (or producer of grapes made into wine by rockstar winemakers) and advocate of all things Prieska – the place of the lost she-goat.

The Place of the Lost She-Goat

Bertie used to be the lead singer/songwriter of Zinkplaat, an Afrikaans rock band whose words I clung to in far-off countries as a young, displaced South African.

But Bertie has remade himself, South African farmer 2.0. He still writes his lyrics, but just on the back of his wines now. “Giving the old pocket of lyrics a bit of fertilizer,” he says. 

Die Verlore Bokooi

“Waar die Karoo-lug deur die wilgers suis

en die Doorn’berg uit stof verrys

ver bokant die Groot Lawaai

skuins duskant die Wonderdraai

word legendes oor tot oor vertel

van ‘n stamhoof met ‘n kreukelvel

Sy mooiste bokooi het verdwyn

tussen tieroogkop en rooi sandduin

Hy’t vergeefs sy lot probeer verstaan

maar opgegee teen donkermaan

Moed’loos was sy laaste kreet:

Die verdomde plek sal Prieska heet”


-        Bertie Coetzee

“Where the Karoo air whistles through the willows

and the Doorn’berg rises up from the dust

way above the Great Din

just beyond the Wonder turn

legends are told,

of a chieftain with crinkled skin

Who lost his prettiest she-goat

between Tiger’s Eye and red sand dune

In vain he tried to comprehend his lot

but gave up as the moon gave out

Dismayed he cried at last:

Prieska will be the name of this damned place!”


-        An attempt at English Translation

Lush Land 

The farm is called Lowerland (Lush Land) and Bertie is the third-generation of Coetzee's to farm it. Set near the town of Prieska, on the South Bank of the Orange River in the Northern Cape. It was named by a chieftain who lost his she-goat there, “Priskab” he called it. By all accounts, it is a harsh place to cultivate, but then, with wine, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bertie talks about the contrast of this hardship with the life force of the Orange River – something he says imbues everything they do. It is interesting to note, because usually when farmers talk about grape farming, they reference the mountains, the slopes, the aspect – something geographical that defines the personality of the grapes grown there. In Prieska, that defining element is the River.

Wine from Prieska 

Given Bertie and his wife, Alette’s organic approach – the goal was always to make natural wines – a goal in keeping with the grape growing conditions of the place. When I asked what the defining characteristics of wines made in Prieska are, Bertie answered candidly: “This is a difficult one to answer but in short, our grapes are usually very healthy and have crisp and high acidity, both big attributes towards making natural wines. We have lots of sun so we get fruit notes early, meaning we can pick earlier if we want to focus on tight wines with great pH. We have warm days and very cold nights and we are 1000m above sea level. I am not sure if that has anything to do with the fact that our berries are so insanely small, but I think the best is still to come.”

Northern Cape Grapes

The Northern Cape is known for its Colombard and Chenin Blanc, usually sold off as bulk wine. Bertie and Alette however, and an astounding number of very well-known winemakers, are working to change that, making natural, small-batch wines here. 

After making proof of concept wines for 6-7 years, Bertie says he knew they were onto something and they started Lowerland wines in earnest in 2013. He was adamant to make natural wines and wanted to give their vineyards just that extra bit of love, which in most cases meant doing LESS. In so doing he says he actually started farming organically by accident. People like Kallie Louw of Porseleinberg and Albert le Roux, previously of Reyneke Organic and then Longridge, made the case so persuasively that Bertie decided they simply had to go the full organic route.

What he created is a biosphere in which their dominant varietals of Tannat and Colombard thrive, so much so that they also planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, with the goal to release their Herd Sire Reserve (Cab/Petit blend) in October this year. Of these varietals, he writes like the lyricist he is: “Our Tannat block has a come hell or high-water personality and is a late varietal here. It always misses the late frost and then I always say that the Tannat "carries its heart on its sleeve". The small bunches literally come out first and then the shoots hold the bunches there like someone carrying a torch as if to say - "ok Karoo and Kalahari sun and desert frosts, show me what you've got!".” Tannat being a thick-skinned, drought-resistant, red varietal currently being made with great success in Uruguay; and now here, in Prieska, particularly well-suited to Bertie’s pursuits, touted as it is as one of the “healthiest” red wine grapes with some of the highest levels of antioxidants. {In case the health-conscious amongst you needed any more persuading.}

The Grapevine

One of the other marked characteristics of Lowerland wines is the absolute slew of well-known winemakers involved since its inception. Bertie writes … I think it pertinent to mention here that I met Bertie at a Publik wine tasting, after which I wrote him an absolute BARRAGE of questions, which he first attempted to answer valiantly via 11 voice notes – but as he said of his Vaalkameel Colombard during the tasting – there was just a bit of Prieska coming through. He eventually relented and wrote me an opus. And so, Bertie writes: “We had many people who helped us over the years, to do a proof of concept and to prove to ourselves that the wine thing is worth our efforts, they are many but Alex Milner, Stefan Gerber, my cousin Nikey van Zyl (and Rob Armstrong), Dawid van Velden, Etienne Terblanche and De Waal Koch (we rented from De Waal on Stonewall and made wines there) and then finally I convinced Johnnie Calitz to make our wines from 2013-2015 after he was the only one who calmly spotted one of our wines in a blind wine tasting. In 2015 Fritz Schoon pointed me to Lukas van Loggerenberg when he was at Druk-My-Niet. I wanted to discuss Tannat as a varietal and get pointers from a viticulture perspective, but after a few wines, we agreed that he would make our first "natural wine" for us. I remember him being worried that we wanted to go too soft on the Tannat, haha. JD Pretorius and I are old friends and one night around a campfire he asked me to bring Colombard to Steenberg so that he can make a Colombard MCC. It was all his idea and man he pulled it off! He also made our Viognier and Die Verlore Bokooi.” The Grapevine, as I like to call them, coming through, even here on this beloved piece of land in the Northern Cape.

Lowerland Pampoenvarke

The thing about going full organic is the fact that it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. In fact, wine makes up only 3% of Lowerland’s concerns. From what I’ve learned about organic farming I can tell you that EVERYONE’s involved, from the Lowerland Rietskaap (Reed Sheep);  to the Lowerland Pampoenvark (Pumpkin Pig) – so-called because they were initially brought in to clean up after the pumpkin harvests;  to the ROARING Pecan Nut trade  - the Orange River irrigation area offers the very best conditions for pecan nut growing; to the heirloom, organic, stone-ground grains and flour, including homegrown Polenta – one of Bertie’s particular favourites. Each facilitates the other – the humans, the instigators. 

Lowerland wines then not JUST wine – but a representation of a place and a people. In Bertie’s own words: “A celebration of the people who do interesting things in strange places.”


*If you’d like to purchase Lowerland grains, meat, and pecan nuts, I’d strongly recommend you order here.

Published On: 08/07/2019

Daléne Fourie

Twitter @DaleneFourie

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