40 Under 40: Chris & Andrea Mullineux

Prolific husband and wife team Chris and Andrea Mullineux are making some of the most compelling and sought-after wines in the world; a remarkable feat considering that in wine world terms - which is nowhere near being part of the ‘real world’, by the way - the estate is rather young.

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines is nestled in the wine-darling Swartland area and with each of the eagerly awaited releases, their combined talents are writing a story of revolution and incredibly hard work. Their shared love for wine, terroir and each other led them back to South Africa and the winery was established in 2007. The accolades followed soon after - the current highlight being that Andrea is Wine Spectator’s Winemaker of the Year 2016, giving me the same feeling as when Charlize won her Oscar back in the day. Chris and Andrea humbly set a precedent of superior quality for South African wine internationally, earmarking them as solid South African tastemakers. I caught up with the superstar couple to talk family, love and wine.

What vintage are you?

Chris: '76

Andrea: '79

If you could bottle yourself, what would the tasting note be?

Chris: Calm, thoughtful and precise.

Andrea: Fragrant, yet tight and brooding.

What sparked your love for food and the drink?

Chris: I had a very early mid-life crisis at the age of 20 while studying accounting. Fortunately, I was studying in Stellenbosch and quickly got hooked on wine when I discovered how complex winegrowing, making and tasting is. I also found it an exciting challenge to be able to turn a passion into a business.

Andrea: I grew up in an Italian-American family where food, wine and conversation were a daily combination at the dinner table. Everyone in my family was either a scientist or an artist as well and wine is really the perfect blend of those.

Aliens come down from space and you must explain to them in one bottle of wine what it is that you do – what do you make?

Chris:  A Swartland Old Vine White Blend.

Andrea: Another truly South African blend of something Cabernet/Cinsault based, like Leeu Passant Dry Red Wine.

What is still on your wine bucket list?

Chris: There is too much! Spend a month pruning in Chateauneuf du Pape. Road Trip up the West Coast of the USA from Mendocino to Vancouver stopping at all the best wineries en route. Wine tour Croatia by boat. Make a great Sangiovese. Build an underground barrel cellar. Work in a wine bar. Visit Portugal properly. Get to know coastal Italy and its wines, to name a few.

Andrea: The Dalmation coast, going back in wine history to Georgia, checking out old syrah vineyards in the Barrosa.

What makes a wine fine?

Chris: A sense of place, balance, length, and intensity.

Andrea: Ditto.

What do you rate as your proudest achievement?

Chris: Being amped to get up and go to work every day and being able to spend good time with our kids.

Andrea: Raising great kids who are also proud of us and what we do as hard-working parents.

What is a big no-no to you when it comes to making wine?

Chris: Doubting your own vision and taste.

Andrea: Making wine to suit someone else's opinion (unless you are contracted to do so).

Who or what is your idea of oenological brilliance?

Chris: Bottling a wine with a true sense of place.

Andrea: Making a wine with only natural yeast and malo, that requires no intervention, settles naturally, and can be bottled unfiltered. It means the grapes were very happy on the way into the winery and careful attention to detail allowed for the vineyard to tell its story.

Where are you happiest?

Chris: With family.

Andrea: Ditto.

Biggest vice?

Andrea: A full jar of Nutella sitting next to a spoon.

What are the biggest challenges we face in the South African wine industry? Where would you like to see us go and grow over the next ten years?

Chris: Leafroll. Tar poles. Building our labour force in terms of education, training and standard of living.

Andrea: I would like to see winery and vineyard work become more of a vocation and less of a temporary job for wine industry workers of all levels. It will be this kind of year on year gaining of knowledge that will uplift the entire industry and the products produced.

Your cellar is underwater. You can save one bottle of wine from your collection – what do you choose?

Chris: Wine bottles do just fine under water!

Andrea: It's true!

What is your favourite food and wine memory?

Chris: The first wine bar I went to with Andrea in 2004 near Bandol was the Baroudeur in Sanary sur Mer. We had simple tapas and great Southern French wine and fell in love.

Andrea: Ok, there is no way I am beating that story!

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? What would you cook and why?

Andrea: Ernest Hemmingway. We would just drink great wine and he could tell me about Parisian cafe life in 1920s Paris when he used to hang out with Stein, Fitzgerald and Picasso and how they change how people viewed art and literature. Then maybe he would challenge Chris to a bit of boxing, which he would of course politely decline because Chris is a true gentleman.

What is the best and worst thing about working in the wine industry?

Chris: Best - the people. Worst - the further you go in your career the less time you tend to spend in the vineyards and cellar. You have to fight that!

Andrea: Best - you can enjoy a glass of wine by yourself, or share the experience of a great bottle with 20 other people. It is enjoyable no matter what social situation you find yourself in. Worst – a GREAT wine that you have been saving for years that ends up being corked.

Looking back, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Chris: Trust your gut and go for it. Don't do what everybody else is doing.

Andrea: Attention to detail now will create a ripple effect of difference for years to come. But also keep it up.

Chris and Andrea Mullineux

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