Mullineux – Good Time for Old Vines
US magazine Wine Enthusiast named Andrea Mullineux their International Winemaker of the Year in 2016. In doing so they acknowledged a gifted winemaker, but also the work of a band of mavericks who have driven the delicious products from the old vines of the Swartland wine region of South Africa.
WRITTEN BY RUSSEL WASSERFALL
IMAGES COURTESY MULLINEUX FAMILY WINES
Old vines from forgotten parcels are often at the heart of the most drinkable Swartland wines.
Before the announcement of the award, Chris and Andrea Mullineux were already a force to be reckoned with in the Swartland. As founder members of Swartland Independent Producers, they have racked up the Platter’s Winery of the Year award three times in six years.
Their roots in winemaking are from completely different New World traditions, Chris is South African and Andrea an American from California. They met while working on farms in France, both learning what they could from classic French wineries.
As Chris describes it: “It was my second time there that I met Andrea. She was at Châteauneuf-du-Pape and I was at Bandol, both regions in the south of France that are very similar to the Swartland. Even then, both of us were drawn to the climate and types of grapes we work with now. We met at a wine festival in Champagne one weekend.”
The couple discovered they had a number of mutual friends from working at various estates around the world. Andrea had even done a stint in South Africa at a winery called Waterford near Hermanus and was interested in returning there. Meeting Chris and teasing out their ideas about grapes and terroir and the kinds of wines they both wanted to create sealed her decision to make her home in Africa.
Chris and Andrea Mullineux are original members of the Swartland Revolution and founder-members of the Swartland Independent Producers collective.
Chris was returning to work at Tulbagh Mountain Wineries (now called Fable Wines) after his sabbatical in France. Andrea went home to the US for a few months and then found an internship on a vineyard in Hermanus. It took a little maneuvering and some time, but pretty soon the couple were working together in Tulbagh.
While making estate wines together, the couple learned about the Swartland, as they were buying in grapes from the region to make a second label range for the winery. When they resigned in 2007 to get married and start their own label, they had a solid plan laid out.
Regular buying trips to the region let them get to know the Swartland really well. They knew where the special vineyards were and which farmers they could work with. Armed with that knowledge, they worked out what wines they wanted to make and came up with a way to do it on a limited budget.
With the experience of buying grapes, they realised they didn’t have to own land. Instead, they moved to the small village of Riebeeck Kasteel and rented an old hardware store to convert into their cellar.
They secured the grapes they wanted, looking specifically at old vines from the farmers they’d formed relationships with. They were ready to produce handmade wines that focused on one region and express that terroir to the best of their ability.
The Mullineux family has settled down to farm and produce fine wines in the region they love.
The next challenge was to find someone to drink their wine. This is where the now-legendary Swartland Revolution comes into play. Initially spearheaded by Marc Kent from Boekenhoutskloof, the idea of a Swartland Wine Festival was to get people to travel to the region to experience the wines. It did that and much more.
Word spread like wildfire among wine-lovers of the Western Cape and further afield. By the second or third year, they had a huge beast on their hands with its attendant crowd-control issues and barrels and barrels of wine being sold. What also happened is that young winemakers discovered the oenological diversity and potential of the region and started moving to the Swartland to make their own wines.
The direct result for Chris and Andrea was the rapid elevation and recognition of their brand of wines, but it also meant that securing good quality grapes became harder due to the healthy competition inadvertently generated. This led to their decision to buy Roundstone, a parcel of land in Riebeeksrivier.
Their little piece of Swartland is farmed with very careful attention to how the terroir will eventually be expressed in the wines. They’ve established ‘green belts’ of indigenous fynbos throughout their vineyards. Certain species like wild rosemary and buchu are very aromatic and release compounds called volatile phenols that settle on the grapes and impart flavour. This adds an extra layer of character and complexity to the wines.
From a start in an old hardware store in a small village, Mullineux wines is now an established brand with its own land under vines.
Today they grow roughly half the grapes for their wines, sourcing the rest from about thirty different vineyards in the Swartland. With the grapes they grow and nurture themselves forming the base, they track down blocks of grapes as blending components to give their wines more complexity.
Another spin-off of the festival was the formation of Swartland Independent Producers. This is a group of like-minded wine-growers in the Swartland region of the Western Cape who share a desire to make wines that are a true expression of their origin. Although they come from different cellars, the idea is that the wines – like those from the great French regions – will all speak of the landscape and the weather that forms them.
The organisation has laid down some guidelines for vineyard and cellar practices that will enhance this expression of “Swartlandness”. These are fluid, changing as the winemakers learn more, but the co-operation between producers is already producing benefits. One is the recognition of Swartland wine producers on the global wine scene for their ability to craft fine wines that express a sense of place.
It is this recognition, the acknowledgement of the passion of these dedicated regional crafters of fine wines, that means people around the world are now enjoying wines from an arid and forgotten dot on the map. It also means that an astonishing winemaker from the region can be named International Winemaker of the Year and the quality of the wines consistently upholds the decision.
Available at Vinmonopolet
3411501 Mullineux Schist Syrah 2016 kr 799,-
6395301 Mullineux Granite Syrah 2014 kr 799,-
334201 Mullineux Old Vines White 2018 kr 300,-
Clairette 12%, Chenin Blanc 69%, Viognier 7%, Sémillon 3%, Grenache Blanc 9%
3411401 Mullineux Iron Syrah 2017 kr 799,-
3400201 Mullineux Granite Chenin 2018 kr 599,-
Chenin Blanc 100%
1078002 Mullineux Straw Wine 2018 kr 329,-
Chenin Blanc 100%
342101 Mullineux Syrah 2018 kr 324,-
919701 Mullineux Kloof Street Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2018 kr 195,-
Chenin Blanc 100%
1770601 Kloof Street Swartland Syrah 2017 kr 197,-