The Swartland Revolution is an annual event taking place over the course of a weekend in November dedicated to showcasing the wine of this particular district and though it only dates from 2010, it’s already an institution on the South African wine calendar – 300 tickets at R1 900 each for this year’s shindig went on sale in May and were sold out within 52 hours.
What’s all the fuss about? Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines is probably the pivotal character in all this, having bottled his cult-status Shiraz-driven red blend called Columella using grapes from the area for the first time in 2000. But he’s subsequently been joined by other high-profile figures such as Adi Badenhorst who left premier Stellenbosch property Rustenberg to start Badenhorst Family Wines in 2007/8 while Chris and Andrea Mullineux moved across from what was then Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards (now Fable) to start Mullineux Family Wines around the same time. The high-profile operation that is Boekenhoutskloof meanwhile is tending an organic vineyard in the Swartland by the name of Porseleinberg – Marc Kent the mastermind behind this and hotshot Callie Louw making the wine.
Sadie, Badenhorst, the Mullineuxs, Kent and Louw were the instigators behind the Swartland Revolution, the intention being to raise general awareness among commentators and public alike of the area. Subsequently, however, the more formal association known as Swartland Independent Producers (SIP) has sprung up, affiliated members required to adhere to a set of core values.
The official line from the association is as follows: “Swartland Independent Producers represents the coming together of a group of wine-growers who share the wish to make wines that are a true expression of their origin. Wines that, though coming from different cellars and sometimes different areas, will all speak of the greater landscape – wines that will, in a sense, bear the DNA of the region. In the Old World, the strongest regions have over the centuries given rise to wines with their own identities. Our experience of the Swartland tells us that it too can have a marked terroir imprint on the wines made here and the intention of the organisation is to lay down some guidelines for vineyard and cellar practices that will enhance this expression of ‘Swartlandness’. “
“It was the same bunch of hooligans who conceived the Revolution,” says SIP treasurer Chris Mullineux. “We perceived the Swartland to be at some sort of crossroads – lots happening but a short history. Our aim was to build a strong regional identity by focusing on what works best.”
And so a fairly rigorous set of guidelines as follows:
- An Independent Producer must have a base in the Swartland and bottle a minimum of 80% of his production himself, in glass.
- An Independent wine must be 100% Swartland Wine of Origin, and produced, matured and bottled in the Swartland region.
- The wines must be SAWIS certified.
- The wines must be naturally produced. The Independent’s view of a natural wine is a wine that has no yeast or yeast supplements added, no acidity manipulation, or tannin additions, no chemical fining, water addition or dilution, and no reverse osmosis or any other application to change the constitution of the wine. Sulphur additions are allowed, but producers are encouraged to make moderate additions.
- As over-oaking tends to “mask” the essence of grape variety and site, no wine may be aged with more than 25% new wood (barrique) as a component. All wood needs to be of European origin.
- SIP wines must consist of a minimum of 90% of the following varieties:
Red: Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Pinotage, Syrah, Tinta Barocca.
White: Chenin Blanc, Clairette Blanche, Grenache Blanc, Groendruif, Marsanne, Muscat d’ Alexandrie, Muscat de Frontignan, Roussanne, Vaalblaar, Viognier.
Perhaps the stipulation that has caused the most debate so far is the one regarding what varieties can and can’t be used, the likes of commercially relevant whites Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and reds Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot excluded. In every other respect, those driving the renaissance of the Swartland are not prescriptive or legalistic so why limit what grapes the region’s wines can be made from?
“It’s simply a matter of common sense and experience,” says Mullineux, his point being that if producers opt for unsuitable grape varieties, then the resulting wines will always have inherent limitations, but if they get their choice right, then the potential exists to make world-class wine. “Nothing is cast in stone however. The guidelines can evolve over time,” he adds.
The above might all be both very worthy but how to get consumers to care? In terms of packaging, wines that qualify get to carry a specially designed certification label which is applied over the bottle capsule plus a related back label. Mullineux says that embossed bottles à la Châteauneuf-du-Pape or, closer to home, Constantia are also an option but this would depend on enough producers coming on board to make production economical.
Ultimately, however, Mullineux is pragmatic about how much SIP can achieve. “It’s about lifting the impression of the Swartland over the long term. It’s not going to happen overnight.” Key to the association’s success will be direct interaction with media, trade and public and towards this end, 17 members of SIP will be sharing an exhibition stand at Cape Wine 2012 (25 to 27 September). In addition, this year’s Swartland Revolution will end with a Street Party open to all where SIP producers will be showing their wines (see https://www.facebook.com/events/315626568522291 /for details).