Orange River Cellars were established on 23 December 1965, with Upington Cellars harvesting wine grapes for the first time in 1968. Since the early seventies, the wine production activities have been extended significantly with the addition of cellars at Groblershoop, Grootdrink, Kakamas, and Keimoes. Grape juice production is managed from a seperate, specialised facility at Kanoneiland, and is also done at the wineries of Grootdrink and Kakamas. In the land of contrasts flows the Orange River, which is the life source of this arid landscape. Together with the red Kalahari Desert soil and thundering roar of the Augrabies Falls, the huge variety of succulents give the barren area its natural beauty. Centuries ago Barthlomias Dias spent five days at the mouth of the St Antonio river.
In 1779 this river was renamed after the Prince of Orange. But in popular parlance it was known as the Great River. In 1883 a missionary named Schröder began to build the Upington canal to assure the livelihood of his community. In those days the water wheel was driven by the canal water and used to irrigate higher lying grounds. In 1966 the Orange River Scheme was put into operation and to this day this irrigation canal is the nutritive source of a flourishing wine region.
The Orange River and the Kalahari Desert bound Upington, the biggest town in the warm, dry North Western Cape. This is also the main office of the Orange River Cellars, the largest wine cooperative in South Africa and in the Southern Hemisphere, as well as the second largest in the world, according to the amount of tons harvested. In the early 1900’s vineyards were planted in the Lower Orange valley for raisin production.
It was later found that the Sultana grapes could be used for the production of distilling wine. The idea of a wine cellar at Upington was mentioned and investigations into finding alternative ways to process grapes that are not good for making raisins, lead to the establishment of the Orange River Wine Cellars Co-op Ltd. on 23 December 1965. Upington Cellars had its first harvest in 1968 with Jan Neethling as wine maker. In the early seventies the cellar was extended with the erection of cellars at Keimoes, Grootdrink, Groblershoop and Kakamas.
The intake of the cellars has grown from 5182 tons in 1968 to a record of 184 000 tons in 2004. Not much of the original distilling wine scheme survived. The production of good wine goes hand in hand with marketing and here Orange River Cellars had great success with its own products. Originally only three wines were produced, but the product list has grown to over 30 different products. The large number of awards over the last couple of years indicates the quality of these products. To date we have received national and international awards and recognition for our wines, the latest being 5 medals at the 1999 Veritas. With the growing demand for grape juice concentrate, Orange River Cellars established juice cellars at Kanoneiland and Grootdrink and in 1996.
The wine cellar at Kakamas is also currently used for the production of grape juice.