By Anton Pretorius
In the warm and wild Swartland, winemakers and grape-growers live by the mantra that good wine starts in the vineyard and is nurtured in the cellar. André Bruyns, winemaker and owner of City on a Hill, is a firm believer of this philosophy.
At first glance, André doesn’t strike you as a typical Swartland winemaker. With an almost-shy, humble demeanour and relatively short haircut (also, no surfboard attached to the roof of his bakkie …), he looks more like a mild-mannered accountant than a maverick winemaker.
But when it comes to making wine, André’s style is anything but timid, and you quickly realise that Andre’s in it for the love of wine and not for the show.
At the relatively young age of 25, André gained valuable worldly experience when he traveled and worked in the Rhône Valley in France. He loved the varietal expression of Syrah in the Northern region of Rhône and found contrasting climatic conditions when he visited the Southern vineyards at the world-famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape. For André, this felt like home, and he compares Southern France’s climatic conditions and varietal plantings to the Swartland.
He has worked stints at wineries such as Rijk’s in Tulbagh and Domaine Pierre Gaillard in France. In 2016 he joined the team at David & Nadia Wines where he spent five years working under the auspices of Swartland visionaries David and Nadia Sadie. André always wanted to start up his own company and decided in 2015 that the time was right and started making wine under his own label, City on a Hill.
André wants his wines to reflect the soils, often challenging growing conditions and the willingness of these Swartland grape growers to adapt to these conditions. His grapes come from old and young vineyards. The oldest ones are planted to the “tried and tested” Swartland varieties while the younger vineyards introduce newer varietals to the wines. A portion of these vineyards are organically farmed and André hopes that in the coming years most of these vineyards will be converted to a more balanced way of farming
“Sourcing grapes from the best vineyards possible and keeping it simple in the winery is a winemaking philosophy that I live by,” says André. He says natural fermentation is part and parcel of the expression of the site as well as the Swartland terroir. “I feel that every region has its strengths, and the strength of the Swartland lies in the soils and the vineyards.”
A crude and homespun cellar, a few kilometres south of Malmesbury is where André makes his wine. The wines are fermented naturally in concrete and old oak barrels to enhance the sense of place and are bottled with only a rough filtration. His White Blend is ever expanding and consists of varieties such as Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Colombar, Verdelho, Viognier and Muscat d’Alexandrie. All of these wines spend at least 10 months on its lees. André also produces a single varietal Chenin Blanc and Muscat d’Alexandrie. Chenin Blanc is his favourite white grape while the Muscat expresses the adventurous side of the Swartland.
Andre enjoys working with red varieties such as Syrah, Tinta Barocca, Mourvédre, Cinsault and Grenache. “Grenache is very well suited to the hot and dry Swartland climate while Syrah is a lot more heat sensitive. This is why I only work with organically farmed Syrah. Varieties such as Grenache, Tinta Barocca and Cinsault are much more forgiving in our climate”.
From an early age, André has had to overcome some serious hardships. In his Grade 12 year, André was diagnosed with leukemia. But a bone marrow transplant gave him a new lease on life, and today André is a devout Christian, living his life with faith-based values.
In fact, the name City on a Hill stems from Bible scripture. Matthew 5:14-16 reads: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” According to André, it cannot only be about wine. “It must also be about the people and the communities of the Swartland. Here we have people from all different walks of life, and we try to connect as best as we can with everybody.”
Coming from Durbanville, Andre’s move to the Swartland was an adjustment for the young winemaker. “I’ve had to adapt quite a bit in terms of how I approached conventional winemaking and how I now see the culture of wine.”
So what makes the Swartland so special? André believes it’s the people. “We have such a great bunch of winemakers out here. And apart from the winemakers, you have farmers, grape-growers and farm labourers that play a significant part in the composition of the Swartland. The community is something we value very high. It’s a huge comfort to know that you can always pick up the phone for a quick word of advice or simply pop into the winery. There’s always someone willing to help or just be a sounding board. It’s what makes the Swartland such a magical place.”
If you are visiting the Swartland you can contact André directly to arrange a tasting by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org , or alternatively, you can order City on a Hill wines online from Cybercellar, Publik, Wine Cellar or Wine Menu for delivery straight to your door.