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Namibian vineyard proving it's possible to make dry desert wine!

Who would imagine anyone could produce good wine – let alone wine at all – on the edge of the Namibian desert, but a British-born businessman is proving just such a thing is possible.

Allan Walkden-Davis planted a vineyard at Neuras, just a few miles from the Namib desert, which is one of the driest places in the world, and now produces 3,000 to 3,500 bottles of acclaimed Shiraz and Shiraz/Merlot a year. This is a place so dry that the average rainfall is just three inches annually at best - and sometimes less than an inch. But, amazingly, a host of factors specific to this place make it work.

For a start the 35,000-acre farm, most of which is stony desert with a bit of savannah grassland, has a natural oasis, which attracts lots of birdlife. Five springs provide all the water needed for irrigating the vineyards and this is collected in two reservoirs. These reservoirs are full of tilapia fish. They stir up the mud at the bottom with their fins when they look for food, which also stirs up the droppings deposited by the birds visiting the oasis. When the vineyards are irrigated, the bird droppings act as a natural fertiliser.

But it is the cooling factor here that enables Allan to produce quality wine. ‘During the critical period from November to January it cools down at night, dropping to 14-16°,’ he explained to ThirtyFifty. Add to this that fact that his flat irrigation system helps cool the vineyards too, as does the netting, which is essential to protect the grapes from all the visiting birds. With the alkaline soil and the Tsaris mountains beyond the desert to shield the earth from the harsh wind, everything comes together to produce excellent terroir.

Allan, who is now a naturalised Namibian citizen, used to be managing director of Shell Namibia, so his background didn’t exactly lend itself to grape-growing and running a winery. And, although he had friends who were winemakers before he bought the farm, he says, ‘My passion was for drinking wine as opposed to making it.’ So it has been through the help of South African oenologist Abrie Bruwer of Springfield Estate, Robertson, that his Neuras wine has ‘turned out rather well’. Allan explained that, ‘He nurtured the wine through its fermentation process by giving me advice over long-distance telephone calls. It is through his unstinting interest and continuous help and moral support that we have been able to get to where the wine estate is now.’

He added, ‘We are delighted that people like our wine; it makes all the effort worthwhile.’

Visitors to such an unusual vineyard - Neuras has a guesthouse which makes this easier – shouldn’t be surprised to be greeted by a similarly unusual pet: Dolly, the seven-foot tall, tame, one-eyed ostrich.