The magic mountains

It’s hard for me to realise that it’s a week since the start of those remarkable few days called the Swartland Revolution – a sequence of serious wine-tastings, fun, and a lot of fine eating and drinking.

I see that British wine-writer and blogger Jamie Goode (a guest of the organisers) has called it “One of the planet’s most remarkable wine events”, which seems fair enough to me. Jamie certainly had fun, from what I could see, and took the partying rather more seriously than the seminars, in fact, and didn’t turn up at the excellent tasting put on by Andrea and Chris Mullineux – at what must have seemed, the morning after a late, late night of heavy drinking, the appalling hour of 9am.

Fortunately, given that I was introducing the Mullineux tasting, my evening had been somewhat shorter and more sedate – rather bizarrely, it now feels to me, much of it spent in a pretty serious-minded (if admittedly not entirely sober) huddle with Franschhoek winery owner Mark Solms and wine-writer Michael Fridjhon.

In fact, come to think of it, there were not many wine journalists or bloggers at this event – apart from me and Michael (both presenting and therefore guests) I think there were only Christian Eedes and Harry Haddon. Possibly because it was a pretty pricey happening and winewriters tend not to be rich – but even to the wonderful Saturday afternoon tasting in the quaintest of the quaint streets of Riebeek Kasteel, which cost only R50 to taste a large number of the Cape’s most interesting wines, no others pitched. A pity.

That crowded street scene is in the first pic alongside. The second pic alongside is my view of the audience at the Mullineux tasting – where Chris and Andrea  presented their excellent wines (including two as yet unreleased 2010 Syrahs, respectively and dramatically differently, from granite and schist soils) with flair, skill and enthusiasm. Below are the some of the opening and closing paragraphs (at least as they were planned by me) of my introduction to their tasting.


I said:

If I were writing a book about the early years of the wine revolution in the Swartland, I’d be tempted to give it the name of one the great novels of the 20th century, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, in honour of the Perdeberg. That’s where what we understand today as the new Swartland really started taking shape. But ten years later, my title would have to be in the plural – the magic mountains.

Last year I travelled north in the Swartland to the heart of the wheatlands, to an obscure little village I’d scarcely registered the existence of before. Its name is that of another mountain: Koringberg. And there, from Joanne Hurst’s tiny Wildehurst vineyard I tasted some lovely, fresh blends, made entirely in the sprit of the new Swartland.

Closer to the centre of things, but even harder to find, probably, is the little organic empire that Callie Louw is ruling on behalf of Boekenhoutskloof, on the Porseleinberg – the Porcelain Mountain. Actually, I must confess that it’s a bit hard to understand why the place is not called the Porcelain Smallish Hill – if you find your way there, you’ll find you don’t have all that much climbing to do. But mountain sounds much grander, especially on a wine-label, and for the sake of my imaginary book, I’m pleased.

There are other Swartland mountains too. And perhaps the most imposing Swartland mountains of all, in whose valley we are right now. The Riebeekberge. And so I can return to the Mullineux. They didn’t discover the vineyards here of course. But what Chris and Andrea did when they set up shop in Riebeek Kasteel (see pic alongside) was introduce, I think, another new element to the ongoing Swartland revolution.

In their quiet way they were declaring that the Perdeberg was all very well, but there was real life on this side of the R44 as well. They were the first of the new young generation of Swartlanders to establish themselves here, and I think it was an important moment in spreading the momentum of the new movement, the new Swartland wine culture.


And I finished thus:

I’ve thought a lot about terroir and I’m not part of the school that includes people within its definition. I think the Swartland terroir is about things like soils, aspects and climates. But those things are abstract and, like just about everything else, terroir is mere potential without the idea and fact of human labour. The magic is not just the mountains, it’s the people too.

The Swartland has, I really believe, some excellent, distinctive terroirs – Chris and Andrea’s wines show us some details of this. But for various reasons, and I genuinely think that luck has something to do with it, it also has a remarkable mix of people leading its forward drive, with  complementary talents, skills and personalities. Somehow it’s alll comiing together just right. The right people in the right place at the right time.

At present, the revolutionary, independent Swartland would not be what it is without, for example, Chris and Andrea – nor would they be what they are now, and what they will be, without the Swartland and all it means.

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