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Small berries, big taste: Swartland Winery & the parable of the bush vine

Swartland Winery is a true-blue South African stalwart that has stood the test of time. Originally established in 1948 by 15 members as the Swartland Co-operative in order to gain independence from KWV and ensure that they could deliver and press their own grapes, the winery has since evolved into a respected private wine company with three business units that offer their clients an all-in-one wine experience.

Today, a full 70 years later, the winery produces a whopping 2.0 million bottles of wine a year from grapes supplied by producers across an area of 3 600 hectares. 2019 has been a bumper year for the team, as they worked to develop new product ranges and reposition their wines for a new generation of wine lovers. We recently caught up with winemaker Marius Prins to find out more about their premium Swartland Winery Bush Vine range, and how the cellar itself is a lot like the hardy bush vines they use to craft these elegant vintages. 

Swartland Winery & the parable of the bush vine

According to Marius, the Swartland region is uniquely suited to the cultivation of bush vines, and it’s the tenacious, persistent and unwavering nature of these vines that inspire their team’s continued dedication to the creation of iconic wines as an expression of the region’s singular terroir. 

“When the first vineyards were planted in our area more than a century ago, the producers did not have the luxury of having lots of water, but they were blessed to have clay soils that hold water really well,” explains Marius. “This is why the first growers started out with bush vines. This area used to get consistently good rain in the winter, and they didn’t have any reservoirs yet, because their main focus was grain, so bush vines were established here because of the soil and its ability to grow well in the clay.”

Traditionally, bush vines are grown close to the soil without any trellising, a system that requires more water and makes the producer dependent on irrigation.

“Bush vines are hardy, they’re adapted to dry land conditions, and with the good winter rains and clay soils that held onto that water for a long time, it was possible for these vines to maintain growth throughout the summer, until harvest rolled around. The shape of the bush itself also protects the berries from the harsh Swartland sun,” says Marius. 

“In my opinion, this is why you’ll find that bush vines are still so prevalent in the Swartland. Once you start moving away from here to areas that have more water, you don’t find that any more. It used to be out there, but because they have more water they choose to trellis and push production volume. In the Swartland, it’s different. We cherish what we have, and we work with what we’ve got.”

Small berries, big taste

Marius has a sincere and enduring respect for the vineyards that yield the grapes that go into their various vintages, and works closely with his team to ensure that the expression of each hard-won harvest is evident in the wines they produce. 

“The thing that I respect about Swartland vineyards is their tenacity and ability to survive drought and other hardships to grow to a ripe old age – it’s truly a phenomenal plant. There is no other plant, for me, that comes close to the vine in terms of sheer versatility. There are so many things you can make from those berries. Swartland vines are hardcore. Many fruit trees have to have water, or they’ll wither and die. The vine is a survivor. So, when you come across a dryland vineyard that still yields some grapes, albeit in smaller quantities, is extremely inspiring and unique,” says Marius. 

The other great thing about working with bush vine grapes, according to this passionate winemaker, is the fact that the innate flavour profile of the berries is much more concentrated. 

“Bush vines only yield so many berries, and as a result the taste it much more concentrated. You have a vine that grows fewer bunches in smaller sizes, with smaller berries, so the taste is that much more pronounced. You don’t have a vine growing 80 bunches, it only yields around eight to 12. As such, the vine drives all its resources to those few bunches, which normally results in a more concentrated product, which translates to a fuller wine. Because there are fewer bunches to a vine, you’ll also find that the berries almost always reach optimal ripeness at round about the same time with all your sugars evening out nicely.”

“You can taste the sun of the Swartland in its grapes. We are exposed to extreme climate conditions; it gets very hot. Up until fairly recently, these temperatures would dip very low in winter, and the weather would be nice and wet. The past few years the rain was not that great, but we still had the heat and the cold (to a certain extent). It’s amazing to think that the vines out here are exposed to these extremes and still yield the marvellous grapes that we use to make our crowd-pleasing wines.”

According to Marius, the Swartland Winery Bush Vine range features bigger, more concentrated, fuller-style wines that walk a fine balance with the wood in which is matured for up to 12 months.

“This type of style is very popular among more serious wine drinkers, but it’s approachable enough to appeal to folks who just want to enjoy a nice glass of wine as well,” says Marius. “We also work hard to keep our wines affordable, so our customers can enjoy a high-quality wine at a good price. With this range, it is our aim to create wines that offer a beautiful balance between fruit and wood, with a subtle elegance that elevates the entire mouth feel and bouquet. Even though it is still affordable enough to be an everyday wine, it holds its own as a conversation starter.”

When & where to try and buy Swartland Winery wines

The Swartland Winery Bush Vine range is mainly distributed to the international market, but wine lovers can still pick it up at cellar door if they want to get a taste of these beautiful vintages. The cellar’s tasting room is open to the public from Monday to Saturday and offers a lovely, family-friendly ambiance as well as tasty meals. 

Indulge in a gorgeous cheese platter piled generously with local cheeses, biltong, charcuterie (optional), figs, olives, ciabatta, and crackers; or order a sandwich or a light meal to tide you over while you get ready to explore the rest of the Swartland Wine- and Olive Route. There are also various kid-friendly options, grape juice and a fantastic jungle gym on offer, so the little ones are catered for as well. 

What are you waiting for? Pack up the family, head out to the Swartland to come and see what all the fuss is about in person. The Swartland Winery team looks forward to welcoming you!

OPENING HOURS – Monday to Thursday: 09:00 – 17:00; Friday: 09:00 – 16:00; Saturday: 09:00 – 14:00; Sunday: Closed. 

Closed on Good Friday, Christmas & New Year’s day, contact the cellar for opening hours on other public holidays.

QUICK LINKS >> Website: www.swartlandwinery.co.za | Email: marene@swwines.co.za| Telephone Number: (022) 482 1134

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