If one must have brandy before breakfast let it only be the best, and some of the best brandy in the world is to be found in Barrydale.
Barrydale lies at the heart of the R62 and there, in fragrant cellars, you will find Joseph Barry Brandy, resting quietly in old oak slowly maturing to become the 10 year old Cape Pot Still Brandy that won the award for the worlds best brandy in 2009. Surely an indisputable reason to be sipping brandy at 08H30 on a Monday morning. Even if you do not have the courage or stomach for alcohol quite so early, just a deep breath in the old cement cellars will fill your lungs with 40% proof air that has a kick like a donkey”¦a small donkey with slippers on, but a kick none the less. An invigorating if somewhat unusual way to start the day.
Also unusual is for me to be starting my day in Barrydale at all. Normally, if I were coming either from George or Cape Town, Barrydale would be my lunchtime stop; at the Country Pumpkin where I order the quiche, as I know the generous slice of quiche comes accompanied with at least four different salads. There are those who swear by the Country Pumpkin burgers, which come with a warning; the burgers are large and come in one size only.
But I digress; talking of food will do that.
The reason I am sipping brandy at 8.30am is because I decided to spend the night at the Joubert-Tradauw Boutique wine farm. This allowed me to plan my travels somewhat differently than usual. Leaving George in the early morning I had the time to take the slower, historic route over the Outeniqua mountains and entered into the Klein Karoo along the same route as the Voortrekkers did hundreds of years ago.
The Montague Pass has one of my favourite road signs at the entrance;
“˜Caution falling rocks and rock slides
Use at own risk’.
I love those signs, for the simple reason that they mean there will not be a lot of traffic and I will be able to stop and stare at the world when ever I please. The Montague Pass offers many moments when silent contemplation of this chunk of rock we drift through space on, are an absolute necessity. The pass is untarred, narrow, cliff hugging and exhilarating it ends in a small village called Herold. Once a busy trading post but since the ‘ossewa’(ox-wagons) were replaced by cars and the Montague Pass by the Outeniqua Pass it is now almost a ghost town with a wine farm as its CBD. The Herold Wine farm is where I hope to enjoy a small wine tasting. But Herold is not Cape Town and here Sundays are still observed as a day of rest. The Herold Vineyard along with all the other farms on the Klein Karoo wine route have their gates firmly shut.
A bit of bad planning that makes it a long and thirsty road to Barrydale, past rocks and grey scrubland where rusting gates forbid access onto dirt tracks that vanish over the horizon to where somebody lives. A tortoise waiting to cross the road just at such a gate, causes me to stop, boldly thrust the barrier aside and stride to a farmhouse in the distance, as I approach, the squeaking clang of a loose gutter and broken windows reveal that it is a forgotten ruin, a melancholy moment. Do all those other gates also bar access to nowhere? As the wind moans through the cracked walls I feel a strong need for some company and stride purposefully back to my car where the tortoise is still waiting.
What is the correct procedure when finding a tortoise about to commit suicide crossing a road ? Do I help it across the road, or point it back to whence it came. As I contemplate this puzzling question the wee creature slowly turns and heads for my patch of shade. I occurs to me that he must be roasting on the tar, so gently float him just centimetres above the ground into a small shrub growing by the barbed wire fence.
By now the wind and sun are conspiring to turn me into biltong so I skedaddle to the one place along R62 that I know will be serving beer, even on a Sunday.
In a small cloud of dust I turn into the parking of Ronnie’s Sex Shop where Ronnie and some new friends are relaxing under the awing while the sound system pushes old time rock and roll into the wind.
I had my virgin beer at Ronnie’s Sex Shop seven years ago. Since then this pub has grown into an icon of the R62 and now proudly boasts the words “˜the world famous’”¦ in front of its name. How did a bar in a ramshackle building in the middle of the Klein Karoo become world famous? Ronnie who is as craggy as the barren land that surrounds him, flips his long silver plait over his shoulder as he answers with the assurance of some one who has no doubt; “˜Sex sells’. His answer is confirmed by the tightly packed bras that hang in Christmas loops above the bar counter. Cold beer, colourful bras and a sex bar set in the desert, a recipe for success.
In a dry dusty land one’s thoughts often turn to drink and my next stop, in the suddenly green Tradauw valley, is the Joubert-Tradaux Wine farm. Where over a bottle of Chardonnay that is fresh, grassy and deep golden in colour Meyer Joubert and I discuss the merits of taking ones time over things. In the world of instant everything, Meyer has taken ten years to get his small range of boutique wines to the standard of excellence acceptable to him and is expecting great things from this years harvest. Night falls as we finish the bottle of Chardonnay and before Meyer leaves, he informs me that the Barrydale Cellar opens at eight and I should be back on the farm at nine for breakfast.
Which brings my story nicely back to the brandy before breakfast, will the drinking never stop? Back at Joubert-Tradauw I accept an excellent cup of coffee with relief and look with anticipation at my breakfast plate of omelette and a delicious range of boere tappas for which the Joubert-Tradauw kitchen is famous.
Between bites of tappas and sips of coffee Meyer and I discuss “¦not wine or fruit… but trees. Meyer is a man rooted in the land, who knows that good things take time, gardens with trees. His garden of trees is the site for lazy picnics where you are served boere tappas accompanied by his own find wines while listening to live jazz. Barrydale has over the years become a destination for all tastes.
But now it is time to get back to Cape Town. I leave the cool of the valley behind and once again make my way through the delicate greys, lavenders and ochre of the semi desert. After a brief stop in Montague for refreshment I drive through the rock portal at the old fort and it seems to me the world gets just a little noisier, the cars crowd a little closer and time speeds up a fraction. At Ashton the R62 ends and I feel I am back in the city already.
But while I have left the R62 behind, there is a small confusion of names that comes into play here. Although the old national highway the “˜R62′ that starts in Humansdorp ended in Ashton, I am still on the commercially named ‘Route 62 ‘ , which is modelled on the American ‘Route 66′ . This route is a thing of commerce, for the real flavour of the Klein Karoo the R62 rules.