You don’t have to go far for insight to Swartland wines. It’s right there on the label.
A unique environment
Hof Street Winery dedicates a range of wines to a threatened indigenous plant known as Renosterbos (Dicerothamnus rhinocerotis). The shrub is rather demure compared to others with more colourful arrays, but it is the dominant member of the Renosterveld vegetation type that characterises large swathes of the region. The species name rhinocerotis refers to the association with the rhinoceros that occurred in the Cape before colonial times.
Owner Wim Smit says the association is a “passion to craft wines from grapes specially selected to represent the quality and flavour this fertile land has to offer”.
Similarly, Lammershoek highlights the link between its wines and their home inTerravinum – a composite name whose meaning directly translates as earth-wine.
The winery aims for minimal interference in pursuit of reflecting the truest character of the soils, climate and old bush vines.
The name Lammershoek too alludes to location. Legend has it that the name, which means “the lamb’s corner” originated from ewes sheltering their young in a copse on the farm. They were often threatened by raptors like Black Eagle, colloquially referred to as the lamb catcher or lammervanger.
Ancient and diverse soils
There are many references to soil and for good reason. They are a big part of what makes Swartland the Swartland. Chris and Andrea Mullineux put them in the spotlight in their single terroir range, which comprises Schist Chenin, Granite Chenin, Quarts Chenin “Leliefontein”, Granite Syrah, Schist Syrah “Roundstone” and Iron Syrah.
Only made in exceptional vintages, the wines are terroir-specific and based on Chenin and Syrah, with the “absolute focus on bottling wines that are a true expression of the Swartland”.
South Africa’s vines are planted on the most ancient viticultural soils on earth, Mullineux Wines explains on its website. “Through tectonic collisions and of the continents some millions of years ago, the shale-based soils found in the Malmesbury area were infused by Magma, from deep within the earth. It rose along the continental fault line into the thick shale deposit, and slowly cooled and crystalised into the granite rocks and hills we see exposed today.”
The sandstone outcrops of Kasteelberg and Piketberg rest on granitic and shale foothills. There are granite outcrops such as the Paardeberg and diffuse hills like Porseleinberg.
The main soil types in the Swartland each have different characteristics creating unique growing conditions. They also contribute different characters to the aroma, structure and flavour profiles of the wines.
History and heritage
Single vineyard vines “bottled with the express intent to respect the truth of the site” are also the purview of Adi Badenhorst’s AA Badenhorst Wines. “Most of these vineyards are on our farm or other slopes and valleys of the Paardeberg,” he says.
Many of their names break the mould, as does the backlabel – as is characteristically Swartland:
“Hier kom jou teks oor elke wyn [Here goes the text about each wine]
Hoe droog en hoog die wingerde is [How high and dry the vineyards lie]
Hoe dit met trane natgemaak is [And how they’re watered in the weeping]”
There’s Dassiekop-, Golden Slopes-, Kelder-, Klip Kop- and Piet Bok se Bos Steen (Chenin blancs).
The Golden Slopes is named after the yellow coloured granite of the site while Piet Bok was the nickname of an old vigneron who lived in a cottage beside the block.
Two Cinsaults are named Ramnasgras and Ringmuur while there’s also Sout-van-die-aarde [salt of the earth] Palomino; Sk’windjiesvlei Tinta Barocca; Raaigras Grenache; and, Bokveld Pinot Noir, which hails from vineyards near Ceres.
Of the vineyards used, are 60-year-old veterans with miniscule yields.
Local history is reflected too in the labels of Schenkfontein wines. Look closely where the vines train the eye, to a tree and characters in its shade.
The farm’s name originates from a Dutch schoolmaster, one Mr Schenke, who settled in the region during the early 1900s. He apparently spent much of his time in the shade of an old pomegranate tree teaching local children to read and write.
The legacy of generations
Any winegrower will tell you that the longer you study the land, climate and their interactions where a vineyard stands, the better your wine can be. Knowledge of a specific site that is accumulated with custodial understanding over generations is exceptional.
The generational legacy of the Swartland is recounted through several wines.
Kloovenburg wine and olive estate for example has the Eight Feet range, which to some degree shines a light on generations of farming families. The story goes that when owner Pieter and Annalene du Toit’s four sons were still very young, they were allowed once homework had been wrapped up, to help their father in the cellar.
For the 1998 harvest, one of their jobs was tramping grapes. The decision was made to bottle their son’s labour and Eight Feet wine was born. The story inspired what is today the estate’s flagship red and white blend.
The story continues at Allesverloren where the current, fifth-generation Malan cellar master, Danie, honed his skills under the eye of his father, Fanie, after graduating in 1987. He finally took the reins in 2003.
The winery recalls its own history in its wines labelled 1704 – the chosen date for the establishment of the farm. Records show it began producing wine a year later, and acquired by the Malans in 1872.
Another aspect of the Swartland that Allesverloren highlights is its suitability for grape varieties of Portuguese extraction. These are now widely used, but Allesverloren was among the pioneers and celebrates the fact in amongst others, Trés Vermelhos. The Portuguese name translates as “three reds” and refers to the composition of the blend, using Souzao, Tinta Barocca, Touriga Naçional – cultivars from the Douro region of Portugal.