It’s been a pretty tumultuous few years for Chris and Andrea Mullineux. In 2007 they left Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, whose infrastructure and reputation Chris had been successfully building up since 2002, with Andrea (far from her Californian home) assisting him in the last few years. Oh yes, and they got married that year too.
The idea was to establish their own label and eventually their own winery in the Swartland – an area that Chris had come to know and love well, while searching out grapes for TMV’s negociant label. So now they were exploring for vineyards for their own wines that they were planning: a chenin-based white, a syrah-based red, and a sweet “straw wine” from desiccated chenin.
And they were finding somewhere to put down the roots of their lives and of their winery-to-be. It’s significant that they settled on the town of Riebeek-Kasteel. The rapid development of the southern Swartland area in the years since Charles Back initiated Spice Route, and then his winemaker Eben Sadie struck out on his own, has been centred on the Perdeberg. Newcomers have arrived, co-op suppliers have been inspired to divert some of their finest into their own labels. There are already some good and serious producers there, and Sadie and others have sourced grapes on the Riebeek side of the R46 – certainly some of the Swartland’s finest terroir is there but the Mullineux are the first of the new young blood to have it as their focus and their base. It could and should be a galvanising moment for the further development of the huge viticultural potential of the area.
Meanwhile, Chris and Andrea were also contracted to make the wines at Reyneke in Stellenbosch, and it was at Reyneke in 2008 that they made their own first vintage. The white Mullineux and the Straw Wine have just been released, the Syrah will rest a few more months in bottle (they wish that economics didn’t dictate such an early release, but such is the way of wine). This year should also see the start of establishing at least the rudiments of a winery in Riebeek – it’s not quite clear yet which of the options will turn into a cellar, but they hope to be offering a more local home for the grapes they harvest in 2010. (Harvest, that is, from the scattered vineyards they have sought and secured over the past two years and, where necessary, started fine-tuning viticulturally.)
And if that weren’t enough for 2009, there’s young John – seen here (as it says on the Mullineux website) “doing his best impression of a bottle of Syrah!”
So, what of the wines, which I tasted last week with Angela Lloyd and Ingrid Motteux. The white Mullineux comes from five scattered parcels of vines, ranging from seven to forty-plus years old. 82% chenin, with the remainder equally dived between clairette blanche, viognier and grenache blanc – barrel-fermented and then matured in old oak for 11 months. Aromas and flavour were rather subdued when we opened it, with some hints of thatch and melon perhaps, and a stony quality, with only the faintest peach perfume from viognier. The texture is fine, the palate blending austerity with richness. Certainly a much more restrained wine than the also very good TMV White that Chris had made at Tulbagh – the comparatively modest 13.5% alcohol bears witness to that. I monitored (ie, drank!) the wine over the next three days and it developed remarkably. By the third day it was at its best, the flavours were emerging, and the whole thing was a lovely, harmonious package, worth at least 17/20 – reasonable value at R130. It should develop in bottle over at least three or four years, and I’d suggest not broaching it until at least late 2010.
It took around six months for the Straw Wine (made from a single Riebeek Mountain chenin vineyard) to ferment; then it spent nearly a year in old wooden barrels. The statistics tell some of the story: alcohol – 10.5%, residual sugar – 289 grams per litre, toal acidity – 10 g/l. For the rest of the story you really need to taste it (sultanas, raisins, honey amongst other things, and a sense of almost decadent ripeness). Despite all that sugar, the palate is amazingly light and elegant, supple and subtle, and there’s a grippy, almost dry finish. R160 per 375ml bottle (there are only 3000 of them). No hurry to drink this – it’ll last more or less for ever, I should think. Our scores were 17 to 17.5.
The Mullineux have left some of the 2008 Straw Wine unbottled, and it will form the basis of a solera – future vintages will be added each year, and some of the multi-year blend will be regularly taken off and bottled. It’s a system that worked brilliantly with the Tulbagh Vin Pi. And just another of the many things to look forward to coming out of Riebeek Kasteel.