Good times, sad moments, and gossip at the Revolution

Plenty of good news and happy times at the Swartland Revolution this past weekend. It seemed to me perhaps the best one yet, in many ways – though for the first time I did start feeling that perhaps the determination of nearly everyone (both revolutionaries and their admiring public) to be cool and have a laugh and a party was getting in the way of some serious wine appreciation just a bit. Pity, because there were some spectacular wines on offer (both local and foreign) which deserved a bit more slow, rigorous attention and explanation than they received. How often, after all, do you get a chance to savour a 14-year-old Château Rayas?

For me the most enjoyable time, I confess, was probably a sort of after-party on Saturday evening with a dozen people (winemakers, a few of their importers, and a bit of riff-raff like me) and rather more than a dozen interesting bottles (my magnum of Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2008 was sadly let down by either a poor storage history or a poor cork or, probably, both), with a braai implemented by Chris Alheit (nearly as good a braaimeister as he is a winemaker, which is saying a very great deal).

Gossip aplenty, of course, some of it true. Not true, I’m glad to say, was a rumour that Charles Back was planning on selling off Citrusdal Winery and abandoning his plans to make unprecedentedly smart Fairtrade wines from PIekenierskloof grenache (see here for more of that). Charles assures me that “I am committed to the project as much as what I was when I bought in!” Which doesn’t surprise me; he’s not the sort to give up before he’s really started.

Another rumour, which I haven’t been able to check, but was more strongly advanced, suggested that “the Chinese” are on the point of signing a deal to buy Swartland Winery – which would give “them” a great big production facility. Anyone out there able to confirm or refute this?

The saddest moment for me at the Revolution (apart from the moment at which Callie Louw of Porseleinberg started muttering a long joke in Afrikaans into the microphone) came when Dean Thompson, of tiny DeanDavid Wines, brought me a glass of his delicious, perfumed, eminently drinkable ½ Square Pinotage 2013, and dramatically announced it was all over. The vineyard from which the wine was made has been sold and is to be uprooted.

Now, something of this plan I had long known about, but was being discreet about it – unnecessarily so, as most of the Swartland cognoscenti seem to be in the loop. The buyer is interesting indeed: Boekenhoutskloof, that enterprising and ever-more-successful Franschhoek-based brand and business (and winery too, depending on the angle from which you look). Boekenhoutskloof is increasingly committed to the Swartland as a source of shiraz and other varieties for all its brands – it surely won’t be long, for example, before Boekenhoutskloof Syrah comes off the Porseleinberg vineyards so well managed by Callie Louw (a finer farmer than presenter of his wines!).

So now, there on the slopes of the Kasteelberg looking across to the Perdeberg, just outside Riebeek-Kasteel, we now have three adjacent farms owned by (or committed to): Anthonij Rupert Wyne, Boekenhoutskloof, and Mullineux & Leeu. Which is a pretty impressive line-up.

But sad for Dean Thompson, losing his pinotage – the vineyard seems destined to be grubbed up (to be replanted with shiraz, I’d guess). I hope Dean finds some equally good grapes for the lovely, fresh and pure wines that he and Roger Clayton make (there’s also a Syrah and a Chenin from DeanDavid). Incidentally, standing and tasting Dean’s pinotage with me was James Pietersen from
Wine Cellar in Observatory, Cape Town – the go-to place for the Cape’s interesting, avant-garde wines. He seemed keen to get hold of what he could of this doomed wine, so keep a look out to see if he succeeds. It won’t be expensive, and it will be full of delight.

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