The egg, the winelover and the silver fish

The story (which reached the end of chapter 1 last Friday evening) began at the inaugural Swartland Revolution street party. Or, more properly, at the charity auction held in the tight space between lunch at Bar Bar Black Sheep and the crowded stalls in the middle of Riebeek Kasteel where the pulic tasting was just getting under way.

Up for auction was one of those concrete fermentation “eggs”, made in France by Nomblot, that have become popular, particularly amongst “natural” winemakers, over the last decade. I won’t try to explain here why people like Eben Sadie are enthusiasts (here’s a good article on the subject; there seems to be both reason and mysticism involved); the point is that one had been donated for the auction. A few people were hesitating, but winelover and Swartland fan Michael Roets took the R40 000 plunge when Eben Sadie and Adi Badenhort  promised to fill it with good Swartland chenin blanc from the next harvest.

Joining in the spirit of things (quite an alcoholic spirit by this stage of proceedings) a number of people scribbled their names on the egg, thereby promising to pay in advance for some of the wine that was eventually going to emerge from it.

To cut short a long story (that involved, amongst other things and people, various illustrious Swartland winemakers helping things along – including Adi Badenhorst, Chris and Andrea Mullineux, and Callie Louw of Porseleinberg) the wine is now in bottle, called Silwervis 2011. The label were designed by a friend of Michael Roets – Conrad Botes of Bittercomix fame. In fact there are different versions, for different bottle formats: the one in the pic alongside is on the double-magnum (and that’s a blurry Michael R in the bakground).

And I should mention that the name for the wine (= Silver Fish) derives from a slang term for the metallic papsak, as now of course only found within supportive cardbox boxes) – it’s a long story, but that must do for now; it’s a great name, I think.

I’m down for six bottles myself – something of a gamble it was (at R100 per bottle paid well before the grapes were even picked), but one that has paid off.

Michael Roets presented his wine at a generous and amazing tasting of more-or-less similarly inspired white wines from around the world (naturally made, some of them going very much further than Mother Nature might actually expect, including eccentricities like biodynamism, complications like long skin contract, maturation in aphoras, etc, etc). Most of the wines were splendid, none of them less than interesting – well, to me and at least a few other tasters, one of them was pretty dreadful, though amongst the most expensive at $48: Foradori Fontanasanta Nosiola 2009, from Trento in Italy; but Craig Hawkins and Carla Kretzel of Lammershoek and El Bandito liked it a lot, and they are connoisseurs of such wines, so I’ll defer to their judgement.

Craig’s own chenin blanc El Bandito was there too (we tasted blind), and I thought it was most appealing: orange coloured, it had spent two years (!) on its skins – in fact the whole bunches were just crammed into an ancient barrel and left there to do their own thing, more or less. I tasted it a few times from the barrel and liked it along the way; now it’s bottled, I still find it both fascinating and rather delicious. Not without volatile acidity, it seemed, and very tannic, but strangely harmonious and piercingly flavourful. I believe it is still available (contact Carla Kretzel at Lammershoek).

My favourite of the tasting was a wine with some South African connection: the beautifully mature, elegantly vibrant Matassa Blanc 2006 from the south of France, where it’s made by Tom Lubbe, who used to own The Observatory on the Perdeberg. One of France’s great white wines.

But in fact the Silwervis was not far behind. I was sitting opposite Duncan Savage (Cape Point Vineyards winemaker) and we were were both very enthusiastic tasting it (blind), thinking it could well be a South African chenin, one of a particuarly delicate, refined and finely balanced kind. Rather more so, I must say, than many Swartland new-wave chenins and chenin-blends, which indeed have great virtues, but they are seldom virtues quite like this, being often (though there are exceptions, including Mullineux) richer and riper and bolder, and, sadly, often a bit sweeter.

Silwervis did have a little fruit-sweetness marking its finish, but in a very satisfactory way. Altogether an excellent debut for this collaboratively achieved wine. I’ll be delighted when I get my six bottles at what is now clearly a discount price, and have already put my name down for six of the next vintage. That, by the way, is how the remainder of the current release, as well as future ones, is going to be sold: to a mailing list, in units of six. If you’re coming to the Swartland Independent Producers’ street party in Riebeek Kasteel on 10 November, you can add your name then – and taste Silwervis among some other wonderful emanations of Swartland soil and sun.

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