One of those hellish Cape winter days. We sat in our shirtsleeves finishing our lunch in the dappled shade of the little restaurant garden in Riebeek-Kasteel, talking of Life and Wine. Especially the latter, of course. I was catching up with what was happening in the Swartland, so it was decided to phone Dean Thompson and invite him to join us for the cheese course we were contemplating, and to ask him to bring a bottle or two of his wine, to help my learning process.
Cheese proved impossible so we had cheesecake. But Dean duly arrived for his slice, bearing bottles of Dean David Southern Constellation 2003 and Dean David 2mile2 Swartland Syrah 2008 (that’s “2 mile squared” – this website is not good at handling superscripts).
The David part of the brand name is Dean’s father. In the mid-1990s (before the current fashionability of the Swartland had been started on its inexorable march by Charles Back’s founding of Spice Route) David bought a share in a farm on the Riebeeksrivier Road on the southeastern slopes of the Kasteelberg – the Malmesbury side of the mountain, and a terroir we are going to hear plenty more of in the future (not least because Johann Rupert of L’Ormarins owns some wonderful vineyards there). “Viticulturists were consulted and a planting programme was begun”, says Dean’s fact-sheet. Some important wine producers were soon to be buying their grapes.
Dean (who’s now in his latter 30s) had been in the UK for a while. When he returned home he started working on his father’s farm and on others nearby, and then in a nearby cellar, before taking over the management of the farm. It was pretty inevitable that soon he’d be making his own wine.
The Southern Constellation dates from the earlier time of his Riebeek experience. It’s a goodnatured and very pleasant blend, softly ripe but with a gentle tannic tug, of shiraz, cab, merlot and pinotage – all, of course, from vineyards along Dean’s beloved Riebeeksrivier Road. It costs around R60.
But it’s with the 2mile2 Syrah that Dean David is announcing itself as a label that is going to help further build the credentials of this side of the R46 as the counterweight to the Perdeberg already doing very nicely already on the other side. I have no doubt that Chris and Andrea Mullineux, for example, whom I recently wrote about as an exciting addition to this part of the Swartland, will welcome Dean Thompson’s wine as a further driving force in the area, rather than as competition. There’s a real camaraderie amongst the younger winemakers of the whole southern Swartland area, who are rather unusually in South Africa working together to advance the wines – and the case – of their region.
So, the 2mile2 is a good wine, with bright, clear fruit untrammelled by oak, ripe but fresh; quite intense, forward flavours as well as a rather elegant focus and – to use a significant word again – genuine, natural freshness. The wine is only being released about now, and the selling price seems to be a little uncertain as I write – somewhere between R120 and R150. So not cheap (and if it’s at the upper end of the range, not exactly a bargain compared with Eben Sadie’s Sequillo blend, say, or two Syrahs I’ve recently recommended, the Lammershoek 2007 and the Quoin Rock 2006 – the latter probably the best shiraz in distant Stellenbosch). But it is made in very small quantities and the price is very fair. And for those who wish to explore the immense joys of Swartland shiraz, it is a vital stop on the route. Dean David is a label to welcome, with open arms – and open throat.