Swartland: drifters and vagabonds settling down perhaps

swartlandA year or so back, when I knew of a well-paid, prestigious winemaker job going, I mentioned to Eben Sadie that it might suit one of the assistant winemakers in the Swartland – could he pass the word around? He looked at me a bit surprised and pityingly and let me know that any keen young winemaker in the Swartland was never going to be interested in working elsewhere, whatever the prestige or pay….

Perhaps he was right, and when I marvel at the wines that assistant winemakers for some of the most exciting Swartland wineries are producing on their own accounts, I also hope they won’t be moving. Tobias was perhaps the first such label – a great pair of wines (Steen and Red) made by Bryan MacRobert, then (but no longer) working with Eben Sadie. Jurgen Gouws, at Lammershoek, came along, with his Intellego wines – which have always seemed to me aptly named, as they are somewhat intellectual, demanding stuff, needing time in the bottle, but packed with character.

There are, of course, also Swartland cellarmasters (as opposed to 2ICs) with their own labels – Craig Hawkins’s fascinating range of wholeheartedly “natural” wines under the Testalonga name is the best known. Johan “Stompie” Meyer, of Meerhof and Mount Abora, has a rather perverse take on the own-wine project. Making some of the most radical Swartland wines in his day job, he leaves the Swartland for Elgin to indulge his love for the Burgundy varieties – tiny quantities of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Swerwer1The latest assistant-winemaker-own-project that I’m aware of comes, then, in a fine tradition – and meets the challenge handsomely. Jasper Wickens works with Adi Badenhorst to make the AA Badenhorst Family and Secateurs ranges. And now he has released two wines: a white which I need to taste properly still, and a red: Swerwer Cinsault Carignan Shiraz 2012. (Interesting that “shiraz” bit – they mostly tend to speak of “syrah” in the revolutionary Swartland; though Jasper sticks to dominant Swartland form by adding the slightly eccentric “l” into more standard “cinsaut”.)

It is, of course, certified as a “Swartland Independent” wine (see here for the SI website, indicating all the practices and philosophy that implies), and in fact I first tasted the wines on that crazy culminating street-party afternoon at the end of the Swartland Revolution last month, when Swartland Independent producers showed their wines in the centre of Riebeek-Kasteel. Jasper’s were among my favourites that day, and at packing up time I saw that he had a bottle of the red left over, and persuaded him to sell it to me.

Last night I opened it, and was as thrilled by it even more than in that initial brief acquaintance. Perfumed, red-fruited, forcefully delicate, with refined but structuring tannins, a fresh acidity, and the subtlety and charm that we’re coming to expect from these cinsaut-based Swartland wines. Lots of urgent life. At 13% alcohol it is an unbullying partner with food, and it’s delightful by itself.

As to the name – well, it confused me a bit. The images of fork-tailed swallows might suggest an obvious meaning for the beautiful word “swerwer” – the “swerve” also evoking to English-speakers the darting movement of these lively birds. But, in fact, I was emphatically informed by the Afrikaans members of my wine-tasting group early this evening that the word means something like “drifter” (later someone suggested “vagabond”) and would only refer to swallows by analogy, as migrating birds.

This is what the back-label says:
“Swerwer – a forever wandering adventurer, like many winemakers. Driven by a passion to follow summer around the world in search for new wine experiences. The Swartland is home to many swerwers, unsurprisingly, because it’s a place with character and soul.”

I have no idea how you could get hold of Jasper’s wines. Nagging retailers might be a start, or try contacting the winemaker if you can. I paid R120 for my bottle of red, and think that’s the standard price. Me, I want more.

3 thoughts on “Swartland: drifters and vagabonds settling down perhaps

  1. To get hold of Swerwer wine, try the Wine Kollective in Riebeek who’s offering the Red (R125) and White (R95) for sale, as well as the previously released Muskeljaat from 2011. Check out their website order page (under Badenhorst family).

    Tim – I do however still have to track Testalonga & Tobias wine down – Suggestions?

  2. Wine Cellar in Observatory, Cape Town, offer both Tobias Red and Steen 2012, at R90 per bottle. A great buy. I think for Testalonga wines, it might be best to approach Craig Hawkins directly (though I reckon then you’d be talking about buying a case, rather than individual bottle) – but they are so drinkable, and not very expensive! His email is craig[AT]lammershoek.co.za.

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