There are any number of own-label brands set up by winemakers employed by bigger, established estates (sometimes very prestigious ones), and they vary from the minuscule and tentative to the surprisingly large. Now, with Yardstick, whose prime movers are partners-in-wine Adam Mason of Mulderbosch and Peter Templehoff, acclaimed chef at Cellars-Hohenhort, there’s even a new twist to the already varied story.
There are wineries which would not dream of allowing their winemakers to “moonlight” in this way – reasonably enough, perhaps, they feel they’re paying for their winemaker’s full attention. The new regime at Klein Constantia takes this understable attitude, for example – that’s where Adam Mason worked until a few years ago, and also produced a few wines under his now defunct Kwezi label, which never really took off.
I’ve no idea how encouraging Vergelegen would be if Andre van Rensburg took it into his head to make wines under his own name – but somehow, so fiercely does Andre identify with Vergelegen, that I can’t easily imagine him wanting to. But Nico van der Merwe of Saxenburg has established quite a thriving range of his own wines since his first little bottling in 1999 – and now even has his own bit of land and small winery in Stellenbosch: Mas Nicolas.
It’s inevitably much more common for the winemaker to make the own-label wines at the winery of the benign estate-owner, as Rudi Schultz does at Thelema and Miles Mossop does next door at Tokara – both of them producing excellent wines under their own names, Miles on a rather larger scale than Rudi.
Chris Wiliams at Meerlust has made no secret to his kindly boss, Hannes Myburgh, of his ambitions for his brand, The Foundry, which he owns in common with James Reid of mighty Accolade Wines (of Kumala fame). James has a lovely farm in the Perdeberg area, with some vineyards already, and even a small winery which will be rented to the joint company when the time seems right to move.
It should, of course, be ideal when an estate like Meerlust is running well and devoted to expressing its terroir that it would be no trainsmash if the winemaker decided to move on – so long as the backup is well established.
So – various possibilities, various models. But I was rather startled by what I found when, on a recent rainy Stellenbosch Sunday I attended the launch-party of the latest release of Yardstick Wines at Mulderbosch. Not only has the range grown from the mere two of last year to a substantial five, all vinified by Adam at Mulderbosch, but Yardstick even has its own nascent cellar there. What’s more, Charles Banks, the American owner of Muldersbosch was smilingly present at the launch – and is more than supporting Adam’s venture: he has even invested in it! This, I’m pretty sure, is something new in South Africa, and rather interesting.
As an aside: Charles Banks is, I think, having fun in South Africa – not only with Mulderbosch and his other prime investment, Fable, but now also with Yardstick – and we can surely be pretty confident that the story of his investment here is far from completed.
But what of the wines? What a pleasure to report of them! The two bearing the Yardstick name are from Elgin: Pinot Noir 2011 and Chardonnay 2011. Both are elegant, fresh and restrained – serious but lovely drinking already. Alcohol levels of just 12.5% and genuine dryness speak volumes about Adam’s restraint as a winemaker and Peter Templehoff’s wish for wines that are refreshing partners for food. At about R150 each, they are reasonably priced (especially the pinot), and I recommend them unreservedly.
I confess I paid less attention to the three wines in the “Marvelous” range.
(The misspelling is Adam’s, it seems; I’m not sure if it’s official or not – Platter punctiliously puts in the extra “L”.) They are rather cleverly called respectively Kaboom! (a Bordeaux red blend), Ka-Pow! (chenin-chardonnay) and Shazaam! (shiraz-based, Rhone-style blend). But if you’d expect some appropriately lively cartoon-style label design, you’d be as depressed as I was by the dullness of the grey background (with unattractive and unnecessary white border) and the pedestrian typography. I’d have thought something like that alongside would be more appropriate tpo the (marvel?) comic names. Perhaps the contrast with the liveliness of the names is intended to be witty, but if so it didn’t work for me; they look like they were done on someone’s home computer and printer at the last minute. I neglected to take any photos – but to help you make your own judgement, I embarrassedly stole the one above from the andunion blog.
And, regretfully, until I taste the exclamation mark wines with a bit more concentration on my part, I am equally embarrassed to admit that all that I can report is that they are very decent, unshowy, rather smart wines, which are not cheap at the R70-odd retail price – but not too expensive either (it’s a very crowded area).
But Yardstick is undoubtedly a label that is to be welcomed. Long live moonlighting winemakers! Long live bosses that support them!