At the recent Summergate event where some 70 New World wines were showcased, I couldn’t help but keep going back to the South African wine table. South Africa is not short of classic wineries, with over 300 years of history, but the five wineries featured at the event were all young guns.
The winemakers behind these labels have a few things in common. They are all passionate, respect the land and terroir, want to make wine as naturally as possible and are relentless in pursuing their goals.
The winemakers behind great South African wine
Mullineux Wines was established in Swartland in 2007 by husband-and-wife team Chris and Andrea Mullineux. Andrea is a California girl who has made wine in the USA, France and South Africa. Chris is a native South African and met Andrea while working in France. Mullineux makes wine grown on three main soil types – schist, granite and iron – allowing the grapes to express the unique characteristics of each. Its Granite Syrah 2017 is elegant yet composed, perfumy on the nose with a savoury palate and has at least 15 years of ageing potential. Mullineux has been named Platter’s Winery of the Year five times between 2014–2023.
Also from California is Samantha O’Keefe, who has built Lismore from the ground up since 2003. A pioneer of the cool Overberg wine region, Lismore is still the only registered wine estate in the Greyton ward. Blessed by cold winter snow, warm summer sun and high diurnal temperatures, Lismore wines display finesse, balance and a purity of fruits. The Age of Grace Viognier 2020 is textural, with exotic fruit aromas supported by firm acidity – a graceful South African wine that truly lives up to its name.
Swartland is a wine region dotted with forgotten, dry old vines that have caught the attention of new-wave winemakers, including Donavan Rall. These vineyards are low yielding and, with the right type of soil, ensure a growth balance that makes a hands-off winemaking approach possible. Donavan started Rall Wines in 2008 with only one parcel of Chenin Blanc in Swartland, and he now farms 15 hectares of vines in both Swartland and Stellenbosch. Rall White 2020 is a blend of Chenin Blanc, Verdelho and Viognier that shows tension and depth, with yellow stone fruits and minerality.
Chris and Susan Alheit are another husband-and-wife team; they set up Alheit Vineyards in 2010 after working vintages around the world together including in the USA, Australia, Germany and France. Their goal – to make authentic Cape wine – is fully reflected in the winery’s flagship wine – Cartology – which is a blend of 90% Chenin Blanc aged between 35–50 years and 10% Semillon. The 2020 vintage is intense, deep and expressive. The 84-year-old Semillon from Franschhoek adds an extra dimension to the wine.
Crystallum belongs to brother team Peter-Allan and Andrew, the third generation of Finlayson winemakers. Established in 2007, they make exclusive Burgundian varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both multi-vineyard blends and single-vineyard wines grown in the Hemel-en-Aarde region with its cool breezes from the Atlantic. Peter Max Pinot Noir is named after the first names of the growers who supplied the fruits for the first vintage. Although the fruit sources have since changed, the moniker remains in order to honour the beginning of this multi-vineyard Pinot Noir blend. The 2021 vintage of this wonderful South African wine is vibrant with multilayered aromas of red fruits, liquorice and black olive, combining the best of Old and New World Pinot Noir.
These winemakers are perfectionists, and their wines are highly praised by international wine critics. They believe that wine should be shared, so even though they only make limited quantities the prices are very reasonable. Check them out in Hong Kong at Summergate Fine Wines.