Turn right from the Horse Shoe in Wellington onto a meandering dirt road and suddenly you could be in Tuscany. Here a lopsided sign indicating Upland, takes you to a rustic and unassuming organic estate, perfectly at ease next to the towering Haweqwa Mountain. Fowls in various feather outfits roam free with chicks in tow and rambling creepers cover mossy mud and brick buildings. The birdsong is deafening.
A veterinarian by profession, Edmund Oettle and his wife Elsie she is an engineer – left their practices in Cape Town in a quest for a quieter life. They bought Upland which is English for Boland. He soon realized that delivering his Cabernet Sauvignon to the cooperative would not be economically viable in sustaining the family and opted to rather make small quantities of wine and brandy of long-lasting quality. Rather than purchase a pot still, he bought sheets of copper and with the help of a technician, welded and built a perfectly functioning 850-litre pot still. This cost him R10 000 then. Today one would have to eke out half million for set up costs.
Edmund unlocks the barn which serves as distillery and tasting room. It is here where the brick-walled copper pot still resides. Framed awards, connected by spider webs, cover the one wall. The one reads: The world’s best Grappa. Here one can taste the cognac which is the 40% alcohol brandy as well as Guinevere, the undiluted 65% alcohol brandy. This is the sort of brandy you drink when you are on your own and have work to do says Oettle with a chuckle. Just wet the lips now and again. The Upland pot still brandy falls under the XO cognac designation since it has been aged for 10 years in oak barrels before bottled.
25 years ago Upland was the first organic winery way back in 1991 before organic became the buzz word in wine-production. Upland enjoys certified organic status since 2000 and as the farm stands, every inch of soil is utilized with growth of some sort. The change in the soil has been dramatic. From an ecological desert in the beginning, the soil is now soft and alive and one can dig in it with your hands. No fertilizer is used. Legumes, which produce nitrogen, grow as cover crops. Edmund never saw the move to go organic as a marketing tool but now is very pleased for the extra bargaining power he enjoys. When he started up he reckoned that the brandy would have pay for his kids education. Although he still practices on and off as a veterinarian, brandy will probably also pay for their grandchildren’s university fees.
The Upland motto is ‘Our products don’t Cost the Earth’ and the Oettle’s believe whole-heatedly in the need to be good stewards of the resources which Upland has been blessed with. The family support sustainable living and the pot still’s waste water is utilized to produce steam baths so the family can enjoy the occasional sauna. Similarly, Guinevere a Canadian-bred raptor, now sadly deceased, used to hunt yellow-billed duck and other protein for the Oettle’s table. Wellington residents have reported that they have seen Edmund driving around in his vintage Mercedes with the hawk perched next to him.
When asked about their failures and successes he drily quips that people warned that he would go bankrupt going down the organic route but today he is making world-class and internationally acclaimed products and the farm is debt-free. On the downside, he recalls once leaving a tap shut in the distilling kettle which did not have an escape valve and 400 liters vaporized in steam. Luckily he wasn’t there.
Apart from the organic brandy and wine, internationally acclaimed grappa (from grape skins and residue) is produced as well as Cape Ruby Port-style wine made from the organic wine and brandy. Edmund is also experimenting with gin as well as various liqueurs like lemoncello made from wild harvested lemons. In the meantime he contemplates his successes and enjoys the fruit of his labours with a bit of dark chocolate and a good coffee.
Catch artisan distiller Edmund Oettle at a Gin & Liqueur workshop offered on 5 and 19 November where you will be taught to blend your own gin, nocchino (pecan nut liqueur) and lemoncello and will take the fruit of your labours home.
Book at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0828969863