Duncan Savage is settling down and moving forward – if that’s not too contradictory an image. It’s certainly positive and exciting news. The settling down bit first: After a few years of making his own Savage wines in the time-corners of his day job at Cape Point Vineyards, and then more briefly in other rented space once he’d taken the big leap and gone solo – well, now he’s just moved into his own cellar. And back, in a sense, to his Cape Town roots, though closer to the city centre than the southern suburbs of his childhood. He’s bought a substantial space in a warehouse in Spencer Street, Salt River – between the renaissance chic of Woodstock and the smart new office area on the Mowbray side of the bridge over the railway line. It’s an interesting spot – not that Duncan’s going for casual trade: tastings for the public will only be occasional (monthly, I think he said) and must be booked.
Let me note the sad aspect to the story: the space Duncan has acquired was first developed as a winery by Tim Martin a few years back, for his eponymous range of wines. Good wines they were – a trifle pricey perhaps – but the venture clearly didn’t take off well enough, a reminder that the Cape wine revolution is no guarantee of success for bright, keen, radical young winemakers.
Duncan is no newcomer, however, already having a great local and international reputation – firstly for his work at Cape Point, more latterly for Savage Wines. There’s a firm foundation to his establishment in Salt River – giving him his own winery, while grapes will continue to be sourced widely.
I must say that I had hoped that we were to be the very first visitors to the winery, when I went there last week with Neil Beckett (the editor of World of Fine Wine, who’d stayed on for some days after judging at the Trophy Wine Show) and his partner Luciana Girotto. But no – we’d been pipped the day before by some other Brits: Duncan’s importer [see correction in comments], Richard Kelley, and Jo Locke, buyer for the Wine Society. Too bad, but things still looked satisfactorily unready – there’s plenty for Duncan to do in recrafting the space, and he was marvellously full of enthusiasm as he explained what he’s going to do.
His stock of wines is not yet moved, but Duncan had remembered, anyway, to bring along bottles of his forthcoming wines for us to taste. One bottle, unfortunately, had gone astray: the red version of a new joint venture with Adi Badenhorst, to be called, believe it or not, The Love Boat, and featuring on the label (really? we’ll see if it happens) a photo of Duncan and Adi sharing a bed while on an overseas marketing trip…. (This sort of imagery is becoming popular, as winemakers save costs by sharing hotel rooms in expensive European destinations: a similar sort of pic was recently posted on Facebook, featuring, in the closest proximity, an only slightly anxious-looking Chris Mullineux and a splendidly hairy-chested Peter-Allan Finlayson….)
We tasted the new venture White, however – a straight, unconsidered 50:50 blend of the two winemakers’ wines: the touch of viognier in Adi’s contributing blend was apparent but not too much so, while the Kaaimansgat sauvignon from Duncan gave a lovely, pithy acidity. A totally delightful mongrel wine.
Duncan’s 2016s should be released around July/August. There are a couple of new wines – but no Girl Next Door Syrah. The gap that wine leaves is filled by a Swartland syrah (unnamed as yet) –from the Jakkalsfontein vineyard on the Paardeberg; a still very young wine, rather more powerfully structured than most of Duncan’s wines, and I found it a touch unsatisfactory (by his high standards) and lacking the trademark Savage delicacy and polish in its extreme youth.
Another new offering (as Duncan moves further away from Plan A: just two wines, a white and a red!) is a touriga nacional from the endlessly fascinating Malgas terroir of David Trafford’s Sijnn vineyards. Another big wine, and intense (with a touch of cinsaut “to rein it in” says Duncan), but with compulsive freshness; blissfully dry and appetising.
Follow the Line is just one example of what I meant when I spoke of Duncan moving forward: his concern is increasingly towards more emphatically expressing origin, and his wines are all to an extent works in progress, moving in that direction. Piekenierskloof will be getting less of a look in with this label, and although the delicious, bright and perfumed 2016 is a grenache-cinsaut blend (elegant and fresh and not at all trivial), apparently the 2017 will be predominantly from Darling syrah.
An interesting thing with the Savage Red: the next release will be the 2016, rather than the 2015, which Duncan is holding back to release out of sequence, as it is still much less ready than the younger wine. No problem with the syrah-dominated 2016 (with cinsaut and grenache), though, despite it being still very young. It’s nervous and precise, with a fine, restrained tannin structure serving the peppery, spiced red fruit well. And the White 16 is lovely – the vintage in this wine as with many Swartland examples showing better and more balanced and fresh than was feared at harvest time.
I look forward to my next visit to Duncan in his new home – hopefully to taste these wines again when they are released in two or three months. He, and they, should have happily settled in by then.