It must be one of the more interesting foreign investments in South African wine – and surely the first such plunge by an Indian. Analjit Singh, a wealthy businessman based in Delhi (founder, chairman and substantial shareholder of Max India Group) has bought some handsome Franschhoek properties, and has also become a partner of Mullineux Family wines – whose rise to local and international prominence in past half-decade has been, as they say, meteoric. “I am fortunate once again!” he says – but this is a man who realises that luck tends to follow hard work.
It has been a sudden but apparently deep attachment to South Africa on Mr Singh’s part. A soccer-mad son brought him here for his maiden visit in 2010 for the FIFA World Cup, and he visited Cape Town on the advice of his daughter, who’d previously come for a wedding. “Within 24 hours,” he told me at a small gathering in Franschhoek yesterday evening, “I felt a energy and sense of place here.” It was the start of what he agrees is “a complete love affair” – a whirlwind romance which is now properly consummated.
After a number of brief visits to the Cape he started looking for a property here. First acquisition was the Dassenberg farm, with it’s handsome manor house, then neighbouring Von Ortloff, then (on the other side) Dieu Donné. It makes up a handsome single property which is being, I’m told, radically and splendily developed – alien vegetation and some vineyards removed, and a good deal of landscape gardening being undertaken (including the planting of what sounds like a small forest of pin-oaks).
This is what SIngh calls the “hospitality footprint” of his ventures here – he also calls it a “retreat”, more in line with the spiritual note that he frequently sounds (he likes citing the words and thoughts of the Dalai Lama; on being fortunate, for example: “Blessing comes from action and mindfulness”). This hospitality side of his investment is being masterminded by Hector de Galard (also based with Max India in Delhi).
There are at present no plans to make wine from the vineyards that remain on the newly consolidated farm, nor to make use of the existing cellar – for the time being, at least, the grapes will be sold off.
Mr Singh is clearly only interested, in fact, in being associated with wine of the highest order. It was viticulturist Rosa Kruger who introduced him to Chris and Andrea Mullineux – whose British financial partner, Keith Prothero, had for a while been looking in an unhurried way to sell his interest in Mullineux Family Wines. This is the share now acquired by Singh. The reformed joint venture will be named Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines – the “Leeu” bit coming from the Afrikaans translation of “Singh”.
The name of Mullineux Family Wines will retain its prominence on the label, and in fact the new status will make little difference to the essence of Mullineux Family Wines. “We are chasing the same dream”, says Mr Singh, insisting that the Mullineux pair retain a free hand in running their business. The dream is one of excellence, of course. Perhaps, say the Mullineux, it might mean the possibility of a good cash flow, if the need arises, and there is a cellar which could conceivably find a place in their production – but there’s no question right now of major capital investment or anything like that. Things will continue much the same, which will be something of a relief for the legion of admirers of Mullineux wine.
As to the Franschhoek vineyards – to repeat, there are no real plans for those. “But”, says Chris Mullineux, “don’t be surprised if one day a Franschhoek wine makes its way into the Mullineux range….”
Analjit Singh is also, clearly, imagining that his South African future might bring some surprises, as well as a notable change in his life-style – he hopes he might spend a few months here each year (he seems to have a number of homes scattered around the world). He says: “This is just the beginning of the journey.”