It’s always more than sad to record the death of a young person, and it’s emphatically sad to say that Swartland winemaker Kyle Dunn died tragically last Friday. He was not – yet – widely well known, having only recently fully inaugurated his own brand of wine, called Skinny Legs (the “second” label Fist of Fancy being a little more established). Prior to setting out on his own he’d worked with Adi Badenhorst.
It was a shock when a Swartland winemaker let me know on Saturday morning what had happened. Though I scarcely knew Kyle personally, I knew his wines well and was looking forward to that becoming a long-continuing thing; I’d spoken to him of coming out to visit him in the Swartland and learn more of what he was doing.
Cathy van Zyl and I had the privilege last year of tasting Kyle’s range of “natural” wines for Platter, and we loved them. To two of them we gave four-and-a-half stars. I have a twice-yearly column in the British magazine World of Fine Wine, and in the last of these I spoke enthusiastically of Skinny Legs in the context of the Cape avant-garde:
Such winemakers can resent their wines being called cerebral, though “geeky” might be OK, but they’re not always easy drinking to those accustomed to more conventionally made wines – as discovered by at least one leading Cape Town retailer partly specialising in such wines, who not infrequently gets indignant returns from unwary customers led into purchases by enthusiastic (and clearly insufficiently communicative) wine critics.
The enthusiasm and the returns are bound to accompany the new Skinny Legs range of skin-fermented wines. The legs in question might be those of the Twiggy-type woman sketched on the 1960s-retro labels, or of winemaker Kyle Dunn, who says that his grapes are “crushed with bare feet and skinny legs”. Kyle is going it alone after no doubt learning plenty about experimentation and attitude from Adi Badenhorst, whom he formerly assisted at his Swartland winery…. Of the Skinny Legs range, I most enjoyed the Special Rendition 2014…. Whole bunches of Muscat de Frontignan fermented for two weeks in old oak, where the wine spent another two years. There’s enormous pleasure (sensual and cerebral) to be had moving from clean, grapey aromas to a light, dry, stony-austere palate packed with character and flavour.
And just this coming week, at a tasting of Swartland wines I’m presenting, I have chosen Kyle’s Skinny Legs chenin to represent skin-contact white winemaking. It will be a sad moment when I come to that wine.
Skinny Legs distributor David Clarke tells me that – unsurprisingly to me – Kyle’s winemaking friends and colleagues in the Swartland will be completing his work on harvest 2017. So there’ll be at least a few more bottles of Skinny Legs to come.
David and Jeanette Clarke’s announcement of Kyle’s death included this note from his mother and father, Lee and Theo, with his sister and nephew, Raine and Gavriel:
We will be having a wake to celebrate our beautiful, larger-than-life son, brother, uncle & beloved friend Kyle on Monday 6th March at his home in the Swartland from 5pm. All who loved him are welcome.