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Fruit farm makes history

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

A small fruit-farm lies in an open field in Ha Ntsi, about 35 kilometres east of the capital Maseru.
In 2008, an unplanned visit by South African wine maker Eric Verhaak resulted in a change of fortune for the farm, which is co-owned by Phatela Thamae and his sons, Mothiba and Kananelo.
It was during that brief visit that the Thamaes and Mr Verhaak, who originated from the Netherlands, forged a partnership that would see the production of Lesotho’s first-ever wine, SANI.
“My friend and I were driving past when I recognised the citrus farm.
“ I thought we should stop by and see what they were doing. I saw small vinesand the idea to grow more on this farm hit me,” Mr Verhaak, who lives in Cape Town, told the Sunday Express at the farm last week.

But Mr Verhaak first had to take samples of the soil back to South Africa and analyse if it was rich enough to grow quality grapes.
“The test results confirmed that the soil was rich. Then we bought 1 200 small vines to plant. The small trees grew well under the supervision of Mothiba and his father and brother, who have the knowledge of growing such plants,” Mr Verhaaksaid.

He added Lesotho’s climate, which is different from South Africa’s, however, posed a challenge with the rails and hailstorms disrupting the development of the grapes.
In fact, what was supposed to be their first harvest was ruined in a hailstorm that came just when the fruit was ripening in March 2012.
“What you don’t want is rain during the ripening process, as it can destroy the quality of the fruit.

“We had to develop ways in which we could protect the grapes while they were left to ripen on the trees. So we decided to let the stems of the trees grow longer so that they were modeled to umbrella the fruit,” he said.
The following year,the harvest was better and from it, the first 200 bottles of the SANI wine were finally produced. Another 200 bottles would hopefully be produced if the fermenting grapes, which were harvested in April this year, turn out well.

The wine is not yet on the market but would soon be available at Sun International’s Maseru Sun Cabanas and Lesotho Sun Hotel and Casino.
Negotiations are underway to supply the wine to the Matekane Group of Company (MGC) business empire, Mr Verhaak said.
“Our dream is to establish a professional wine industry in Lesotho.
“We want to produce good wine that can add value to the country’s tourism. Tourists should come and have a wine that is unique and produced in this country,” he said.

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