Revolutionary Young Winemakers

Friday, 6 May, 2016
Tshepang Molisana
Siobhan Thompson, the CEO of Wines of South Africa began her opening address at Cape Wine 2015 by describing South Africa’s wine industry as one that “has a nervy energy that comes from walking a tight-rope of contradictions.”

The spirit of revolution has perfumed the air. The waters of radical change are licking at the roots of our vines and are bearing the first fruits of dynamic change. From the extraordinary Shiraz yields of Elim to the patriotic Steen of the Swartland, the South African wine landscape is rich with the dynamism of change.

The seal of Swartland Independence indicates that the wines have been made with no added yeast, enzymes or acids. Wildehurst Chenin Blanc (2012) produced in Koringberg, Swartland, South Africa is one extraordinary example of this commitment to Swartland Independence. The winemakers radiate with joy as they declare: “the most satisfying thing is for us to take a risk, and to see you guys enjoying it.”

This Eben Sadie-like commitment to producing wine that is true to terroir and honest to the skin of its teeth is wide-reaching across the Swartland region. Silwervis, El Bandito and Intellego Wines are similarly devoted to the Swartland philosophy. Intellego, is a Latin word that means “to understand” and their 2014 Elements Skin Contact Chenin Blanc relays as much about the winemakers as it does about the wine. Almost honey-yellow, the Chenin Blanc is stripped to its elements. The smell, texture and colour of the wine is designed to surprise – as much as the surfboard on its label.

The Swartland risks are rich with the favour of reward. Analjit Singh was drawn to the Swartland by the exceptional quality of the wines produced by Mullineux Wines. Similarly, Badenhorst Family wines are widely respected. Adi Badenhorst continues to draw record breaking lots at Cape Winemakers Guild Auctions - because of his extraordinary wit and the exceptionally honest nature of his winemaking.

But the revolution isn’t restricted to the rambunctious wines of the Swartland.

Praisy Dlamini, Zonnebloem’s assistant red winemaker, is a graduate of both Elsenberg Agricultural College, as well as the Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé Programme. Dlamini grew up in Empangeni, in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal. After completing her undergraduate degree through the generosity of a bursary from The Department of Agriculture, Dlamini became the first woman to achieve a three year Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé internship. She remains humble about her remarkable achievements and considers the opportunity that she received a privilege, because she believes that in the art of making wine, “experience is the best teacher.”

Experience is proving to be a dynamic teacher for Elmarie Botes, a member of the Fleur du Cap winemaking team. Elmarie, began her career in winemaking as a Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé before joining Fleur du Cap in 2013. She has recently been part of the winemaking team that has helped to craft Fleur du Cap’s Natural Light Rose 2015. Elmarie confides: “There are few things in life that are as sweet as enjoying good company with a few glasses of Natural Light Rosé.”

Fleur du Cap’s Unfiltered range is generally viewed as an industry benchmark – and even Fleur du Cap has felt the jolt of change. The winemaking team at Fleur du Cap has seen a recent shake-up.

Having joined Fleur du Cap in 2013 as the red winemaker, Wim Truter has come full circle and now leads the entire winemaking process at Die Bergkelder as Cellermaster. In his stead, he has left Pieter Badenhorst as Fleur du Cap Red Wine Winemaker in charge of the Unfiltered Range as well as Die Bergkelder selection. Truter believes that Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Pinotage and Chenin Blanc 2014, “are the culmination of a long search for just the right vineyards to produce a top quality Pinotage and Chenin Blanc that can stand out as fine examples of what are probably the country’s most significant grape varieties.”

Lawyer, Mphumeleli Ndlangisa quietly asserts, “I want people to have a revelation when they taste these wines.”

“These wines” refer to the Magna Carta Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc that the cowboy winemaker recently made and self-funded. The Magna Carta is a legal treaty passed in England 1215 that ensures that slaves own the productive rights to their labour. The Magna Carta wines are as poetic as their winemaker. The Elgin-grown wines are made naturally, with the philosophy that low alcohol and little intervention result in wines that are bound to leave an impression on those that they encounter.

It is this “nervy energy” that South African wines are currently expressing.

There are also instances of Garagistes like Blackwater Wine. Francois Haasbroek has produced the exceptional Blackwater Noir MMXII which is composed of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah. Similarly, Duncan Savage’s Savage Red 2011 is an intriguing blend of three cultivars. The Drift Wines’ ‘The Gift Horse’, is a memorably exquisite Barbera, an unusual varietal for South Africa that should be looked in the mouth.

Wall Street Journal wine critic, will Lyons has praised South African wines as one that “consistently offers outstanding value.”

But the true value of South African wines is their commitment to walking the tight-rope that leads to excellence. Innovation meets respect for the old-world. New talent is honed by experienced hands and it is with great pride that we declare, “Vive la Revolution!”

Elmarie Botes
Elmarie Botes

Praisy Dlamini
Praisy Dlamini

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