Swartland and Tulbagh 2010

These notes accompany a in-depth feature on South Africa 2010. For profiles of all 30 estates visited please see Regional report: South Africa 2010.


sa-tullbagh-ducks (44K)TMV is a truly ground-breaking project, that cleverly used social media with a lively blog to tell the story of its conception and creation over several years, long before the first grapes were harvested. This built interest amongst wine lovers early on, and thankfully, the wines turned out to be every bit as special as this terroir, literally on the Tulbagh mountainside, far to the north of Stellenbosch.

The farm is privately owned by Englishmen Jason Scott and George Austin, and extends to 180 hectares, but only 16 of those are planted to vine. Sharing the land are 150 head of sheep, which are mainly used to provide manure and to keep the cover crops in trim on this certified organic vineyard. There’s a holistic, ecological ethos that permeates this remote place – raptors are encouraged to nest in order to scare off grape-nibbling birds, though as we stood on the winery terrace we watched a troop of baboons happily picking their way through the last of the Mourvèdre high on the mountain. “I guess they are entitled to it,” said viticulturist Paul Nichols, “It was their home long before it was ours.” Though far rarer visitors, cheetahs have also been spotted using the reservoir come duck pond at the heart of the vineyard.

sa-tullbagh (49K)TMV is an extraordinary and remote place, needing a four-wheel drive to reach it along miles of bumpy track, and scorching hot on my March visit when the thermometer read well over 40 in the shade. Planted with both irrigated and unirrigated bush vines, and with fermentation using only wild yeasts found in the vineyard, there’s a literally hands on approach to the winemaking in small tubs and vats. Another winemaking couple has taken over from Chris and Andrea Mullineux here, as Paul Nichols works in partnership with his wife Rebecca Tanner. As with the Mullineux’s there’s a blurring of the roles they share in vineyards and cellar. Many biodynamic practices are employed in the vineyards, the owner’s original vision being carried through by Paul and Rebecca – who met in Australia whilst Rebecca was making wine with ultra-organic devotee, Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines. The couple’s involvement with TMV is total: they also tend the sheep and all of the 180 hectares. It seems the new team at the helm here are a very safe pair – or two pairs – of hands.

The wines

2008 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard White
Old vine Chenin, Chardonnay and Rhône varietals. Quite a big, toasty oak nose, with a lovely clarity of fruit coming through. The finish is a little too sweet for me (over 7g/l sugar) but Rebecca says it will have less next year. Powerful, decisive concentration. 89/100

2009 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard White
Leesy, broad nose with less oak influence and very fine, powerful wines, quite a lot of solids content during ferment and barrel ageing. Fantastic tangy and rich. 90/100 2007

Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard ‘Raptor Post’
Made from Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre, all estate fruit. Deep sweet, plum and damson jam fruit , the little briar and olive notes are lovely. Palate is big and juicy, with lots of chunky fruit, but a certain elegance too. 89/100

2006 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard Shiraz Mourvèdre
Huge spice and chocolate nose, with a thick bramble fruit richness and depth. Super ripe and concentrated. 91/100

2005 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard Syrah Mourvèdre
Around 80% Syrah. Deep, powerful, meaty nose, with masses of dusty, rich, bramble fruit. Pepper, clove and spice, the palate also chewy, savoury and grippy. Robust, but with a refined finish too. 92/100. £14, The Wine Society

2007 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard Swartland Syrah Mourvèdre
Very sweet, ripe, rich fruit. Lots of chocolate and plummy blue-black richness. Big and plush, a very ripe and chocolaty style, the tannins grippy and giving this a liquorice edge, playing against that super sweet fruit. 92/100. £14, Waitrose.

2006 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard Theta Syrah
Big, robust wine with a touch of bacon fat and wood smoke, and lots of very spicy, deep-set black fruit. There’s great chocolaty richness here, with fantastic juiciness. Lovely dry extract and terrific quality and length and seems very youthful. 93/100

Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard Vin Pi (one)
This superb wine comes from a six-year-old solera started by Chris Mullineux when he was winemaker here. It is a Chenin Blanc Vin de Paille (straw wine) with beautiful aromatics: lots of cherry and super fruit sweetness, a strawberry syrup palate with delicious toasty richness and boldness, holding terrific acidity. 93/100.

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sa-mullineux (28K)Born and raised in Johannesburg, Chris Mullineux says he “got a big break,” when Swartland pioneer Eben Sadie put him in touch with the newly established Tullbagh Mountain Vineyards when Chris was still finishing his final year of study to become a winemaker. The gamble paid off handsomely, as Chris quickly established a reputation, putting Tullbagh on the map with their Syrah in particular. With the help of backers, Chris and his Californian wife Andrea, who shares winemaking duties, struck out on their own in 2007. They have just three wines, a Chenin-based white made from 40-year-old vines plus little bits of various Mediterranean varieties including Viognier, Grenache and Clairette. Their red is a Syrah, the fruit coming from a mixture of vineyards, with very different soils that give different textures and aromas. On the Riebeek Mountain, shale and slate dominates, (so even white varieties are quite phenolic, according to Chris). On the Paarl side of the valley, granitic soils give more mineral and aromatic wines.

The third wine echoes another of the success stories from their time at Tullbagh Mountain, with dessert wine. In this case it is a straw wine made mostly from Chenin Blanc, and which sold out almost immediately on release. Though all vineyard and winery duties are shared, Chris says he is happiest out in the vineyard where all picking decisions are done entirely on the flavours in the fruit, and not on analysis of sugar and acid numbers. Andrea meanwhile is particularly pleased by their new cellar in the town of Riebeek-Castel, a lovely, simple and functional space with stainless steel and large wooden foudres, as well as smaller barriques amongst the equipment.

The wines

2008 Mullineux White Blend
Only French oak, all barrel-fermented in old wood – fourth and fifth wine – only natural winemaking with no added yeasts, enzymes or tannins. Minimal herbicides or pesticides, and all farming naturally: a bit of a theme in the region with Lammershoek and Scali in organic conversion. Nutty nose, very clean, with notes of seeds and nuts and a clean apple fruitiness. The palate has a phenolic richness and grip, with fabulous weight and sense of balance and precision. Pithy, lemon and orange acidity and a great sense of minerality running through. 91/100 £12.95.

2009 Mullineux White Blend
Similar, tight, nutty nose, but more appley with some fresh green apple and a Cox’s Pippin nuttiness. The palate has fine poise and elegance, and real freshness. There’s a lovely clarity and freshness in the finish, with delightful definition. 91/100.

2008 Mullineux Syrah
Only around 10% new wood. Lovely cool-climate Syrah, with beautiful garrigue aromas, lots of smokiness and earth, very good, ripe, rich red fruit beneath. The palate has really nice texture, coating the palate with a smooth chocolate and berry fruit, a touch of leather and tobacco, but not rustic. A lovely earthiness and richness to the tannins too, playing against that sweet fruit and structure. 93/100. £14.95

2008 Mullineux Straw Wine
Dried over a period of three weeks, whilst sugar and acidity both rise. Lovely complex tea and orange nose, with lots of tobacco and nuttiness. Fine, sweet palate, with terrific purity that shimmers with lemon and honey and a real barley sugar richness. 93/100.

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sa-scali (40K)I was delighted that Willie and Tania de Waal met for lunch with myself and Chris Mullineux to present their wines. The de Waal’s are a no-nonsense couple who in 1999 added a wine operation to their family, which was founded by Willie’s great-grandfather in 1877 on the proceeds of a huge 44 carat diamond he had uncovered. Willie and Tanya had grown grapes for years, and indeed made a little wine for home consumption and the enjoyment of friends, but their success, particularly with Pinotage, led then to pursue a quality dream. Today production is still only around 1,000 cases, and three wines are produced: a white blend, a Pinotage, and accounting for the bulk of production, a Syrah with fermentation in large oak vats, and ageing in French barriques. Farming is sustainable.

A commitment in London meant that neither Eben Sadie nor Adi Badenhorst where in the area at the time of my visit, so with huge generosity Chris Mullineux gathered up wines from them and the region’s other estates for a tasting in his cellars.

The wines of Scali

2007 Scali Blanc
A Chenin-dominant blend with Chardonnay and Viognier. Some of the fruit was raisined, then de-stemmed and given a long, skin contact. Willie says it was “made in open top fermenters in a red wine style.” It has a bold, yellow colour, and nice, rich, honey and wax notes, great sultan richness. Lovely fruit sweetness here, with a palate-filling, waxy weight. Interesting style, almost like Josko Gravner. 89/100

2006 Scali Pinotage
Cold soaked with carbon dioxide to extract colour and flavour before alcoholic fermentation in open top French oak fermenters, with extended skin contact post-ferment, for around 30 days in total. There’s a touch of spice on the nose as well as copious, smooth, juicy black fruit. The palate has cedar and a certain spicy richness, with a lovely silkiness and chocolate-rich tannins. 91/100

2006 Scali Syrah
Same winemaking as the Pinotage, though aged in oak for a little longer. From a decomposed granite soil. Lovely lifted, clear, almost floral perfume here. The ripe black fruit comes through, with a certain chocolaty smoothness. 91/100.

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Other producers

2009 Babylon’s Peak Chenin Blanc
The highest vineyards in the area at 350 metres. Bright green apple fruit and a definite zing here. Bold and juicy, with plenty of herbal, leafy fresh fruit. 88. With Alliance Wines in the UK. See all stockists on wine-searcher

2008 Sequillo by Eben Sadie White
Chenin dominates with lots of Mediterranean varieties in small quantities. Very aromatic, with lightly oxidised, Rhôney entry, with lots of richness and honey. Snaps together on the palate, with delicious tang and vibrancy – big orangey blast with citrus and mineral acidity coming through. 92/100. With Richards Walford in the UK, around £14. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

2008 Lammershoek Roulette Blanc
Lammershoek are a very important name in Swartland, not only as one of the biggest producers, but as suppliers of grapes to many other people from their old vines. Quite a mellow, Chardonnay dominated nose (blended with Chenin and Viognier) with a gently toasty character. Lovely sweet fruit becomes quite peachy, and the toasty oak fills the finish. 90/100. With Richards Walford. See all stockists on wine-searcher

2008 Palladius by Eben Sadie
Sadly a corked bottle and the only one sent along. See all stockists on wine-searcher

2007 AA Badenhorst White
Adi Badenhorst was ex-winemaker at Rustenburg. Roussanne with Grenache, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. Lovely fat and peachy nose with buttery qualities and fine fruit sweetness. Great presence here, with fabulous perfume and rich, sweet mouthful of fruit. Delicious stuff with dazzling acidity. 93/100. With Swig in the UK. See all stockists on wine-searcher

2008 Babylon’s Peak Shiraz Carignan
A tiny green note here, a little resinous but decent fruit beneath. Big and rich, with a robust, chunky fruit and quite a full, fleshy mouthful with good definition of tannins and acids. 89

2007 Babylon’s Peak Syrah
Italian tinned tomato quality, a touch baked perhaps. Good fruit and balance, but that slightly stewed quality detracts.

2006 Sequillo Red by Eben Sadie
Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Grenache aged in 500-litre barrels. Quite schisty and smoky, a touch of reduction, but the black fruit on the palate is clearly very sophisticated with fantastic length and precision ion the finish. 92/100

2006 AA Badenhorst Red
Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Cinsault. Big, open, smoky and schisty nose with a dry extract quality that is a touch ashy. The palate has fine, juicy fruit, but then it seems a touch extracted – a touch – ashy. Still a really nice wine with great black fruit. I would have liked it a tiny bit less extracted. 90/100.

2007 Columella by Eben Sadie
Around 85% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre. Beautifully fleshy and dense, with loads of chocolate and meaty quality. Great density and natural extraction here, soaks up the 100% new wood. Very impressive palate, with a juicy sweetness to the fruit, but savoury, dense and beautifully structured. Big, but really beautiful. 95/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

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