The bottom line is simple: Under new ownership and new cellar direction, with a coherent strategy and a focus on quality, Mulderbosch has improved greatly in the past few years. This became clear to me recently, when I spent some hours tasting through the current range – with mini verticals back into the recent past – along with cellarmaster Adam Mason (who moved here from Klein Constantia in time for the 2012 harvest) and his winemaker, a young Australian named Mick Craven.
In fact Adam is also largely in control of the vineyards, with the eminent Kevin Watt as consultant. He ascribes a lot of Mulderbosch’s success to Kevin’s work – especially as he and Mick clearly have a pretty hands-off approach in the cellar. There are some 45 hectares of vineyards at Mulderbosch – which used to be Kanu, of course, as the two brands swopped properties in 2010. But a great many grapes are also sourced elsewhere – mostly, but not exclusively, within Stellenbosch.
In fact, they make use of over 40 different growers to provide fruit – Mick says there were 104 different ferments in the Mulderbosch cellar in 2014. Interestingly, and it’s a sign of the intelligent and imaginative attention to detail here, they keep separate tiny, unblended amounts of the wines from each source, so that the farmers can taste what their vineyards are producing. Something that’s clearly much appreciated, and only likely to increase the farmers’ useful sense of involvement in the wine.
I was never one of Mulderbosch’s many fans in the long years when Mike Dobrovic was cellarmaster – he showed undoubted winemaking skill, but his reliance on a commercially rewarding bit of residual sugar in the wines seemed both cynical and unappealing to me. Generally the recipe was about 4 grams per litre of residual sugar, I think – though for the rather famous Barrel Fermented Chardonnay it was almost double that, something which won it nearly as many medals and stars as it did admirers.
There was a brief period when Richard Kershaw took over the cellar after the departure of Dobrovic in 2009. But all changed when Mulderbosch was acquired in late 2010 by the American Charles Banks, and his international, but California-based, Terroir Capital wine investment group. Kershaw was off to his own wine business, and Adam Mason stepped up (with Klein Constantia also having changed ownership).
It was clear from the start what Banks’s ambitions were for Mulderbosch. It was not going to be primarily a “terroir”-oriented business (that was the function of his Fable estate in Tulbagh), but a brand, producing good quality and not outrageously expensive stuff. True, quantities were not always expected to reach the levels of Mulderbosch Rosé: this largely cabernet-sauvignon wine is now Sweden’s biggest rosé, and Adam tells me quantities are rising to a staggering 2.6 million litres. That’s a lot of pink stuff, especially when its virtually dry and a rather decent expression of rosé-dedicated cab.
The only red in the range is the Faithful Hound Bordeaux Blend – the famous label nicely tweaked with gilt, and the wine itself rather more emphatically tweaked. The 2009 was rather sweet and showy, the 2011 much brighter and more savoury and dry, its much larger component of cabernet franc revealing itself most appealingly. Adam gives a lot of the credit for the improvement in Faithful Hound to better vineyard selection. But I suspect the 2012 is more like the style Mulderbosch is aiming at – certainly refined and dry, with lovely pure fruit, but with a touch more emphasis on fruit and less on savoury than the 2011.
Mulderbosch’s chardonnays show a similar sort of evolution towards elegance, restraint and dryness, with reduced and notably unobtrusive oaking – but fearful of losing the easy appeal of fresh, sweet fruit.
There’s an impressive new top range called 1000 Miles, so far including chenins and a really good Sauvignon Blanc – like just about all my favourite local sauvignons, it’s both been well oaked and has clear, marvellous notes of blackcurrant to complement the more standard granadilla, etc.
The three 2013 chenins are, in fact, from three single-oldish-vineyards. Different soils and aspects give undoubtedly different characters, and the wines are most attractive – though perhaps not more so than the Steen op Hout version, where the 2013 is particularly good. I wonder if this sort of exercise will be frequently done at Mulderbosch, where the focus is more on blending than on specificities of terroir. But if the point was to demonstrate that a concern with detail is a percurrent concern here, it does so admirably.