Through the Grapevine - Khuluma July 2013

Monday, 15 July, 2013
Lammershoek Private Wine Cellar
Calling natural winemaking a trend is missing the point. A handful of winemakers are simply rediscovering the way things once were. Leading the charge is Craig Hawkins at Lammershoek Winery in the Swartland.
Calling natural winemaking a trend is missing the point. A handful of winemakers are simply rediscovering the way things once were. leading the charge is Craig Hawkins at lammershoek Winery in the Swartland. Keith Bain sipped and swirled au naturel.

YOU KNOW THE SCENE. Chatty hipsters milling around the tasting room, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, elated that - in exchange for making a hefty purchase – they get a few free tastes and a quick, by-the-numbers lesson in wine appreciation: 'Mulberries this. Rose petals that. Perhaps a hint of peppercorn.' Then it's sniff, sip, swirl and spit or swallow. Followed by that knowing exchange of glances and nodding of heads – the winemaker is a genius, surely. 'It's heavenly!' you tell your companions, knowing you'd better not disagree with the double gold this vintage received in some competition you've never heard of.

But none of these wine-tasting sessions reveal one big closeted truth about the overwhelming majority of commercial wines: that they're chemically engineered. In fact, without passing too much judgement, when they sell you a wine, they don't tell you the honest story of how it manages to exist at all. Because conventional winemaking now usually comes down to the bottom line: high volume at low cost. There's an economic imperative, and it's maximised by manipulating and controlling every step of the winemaking process. Anyone still clinging to the illusion that the wine they drink is a natural product may be baffled to learn that they've been living - and drinking - under a cloud. But, as with all clouds, there's a silver lining.

The trailblazer

To meet maverick winemaker Craig Hawkins, I've driven out to the Swartland, about an hour from Cape Town, somewhere between Malmesbury and Paarl. The final kilometres are bumpy dirt track through honest farmland sprawled against a postcard backdrop of undulating hills.

The spell of idyllic countryside is broken by one hell of a racket in the Lammershoek cellar - grinding engines, pumping water for barrel cleaning. When Hawkins shuts down the pump, there’s still a lot of noise, only now it's hardcore rock thundering between the fermentation tanks. No mellifluous classical symphonies here - this is a working man's cellar.

'Good music's important,' says Craig. 'Does it help the wines?' I ask, pondering if the sound influences fermentation. 'It helps me,' he grins.

And then he takes me through the simple-sounding alchemy that results in a finished bottle of wine. Basically, the grapes are hand-harvested, brought into the cellar and hand-sorted. They are then crushed (or macerated) - often under foot - and the resulting must (or young wine, along with skins, seeds and stalks) is moved into the fermentation tanks. And, aside from keeping careful watch, that's more or less that. What startles me is that there's no mention of yeast and there's no filtering or fining - processes typically used to remove residue. In a robust farm environment, explains Craig, there's sufficient naturally occurring yeast, while all those filtration and purification processes yank the soul from the wine.

Click to read complete article THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE - Khuluma July 2013 (pdf format)...