Publik Wine Fair. Picture: SUPPLIED
Publik Wine Fair. Picture: SUPPLIED

When David Cope opened Publik Wine Bar in Cape Town in 2013 he wanted it to be a place where he could serve the growing number of independent winemakers he was stumbling upon — or who stumbled upon him.

One such creator of vino he recalls meeting was a young man who hoped the wine he had made would pay for an engagement ring for the girl he wanted to marry. He’d named the wine after her.

"The wine was made from verdelho, a rather obscure Portuguese varietal," recalls Cope. "It was very good, so naturally we bought it."

The winemaker was Franco Lourens, who makes wines under the moniker Lourens Family Wines and who would later work with Chris Alheit and his wife at Alheit Vineyards. Both labels will be available at the Publik Wine Fair at Turbine Hall in Joburg’s Newtown on Sunday.

The fair was inspired by tales like that, of independent winemakers working with unusual varietals, often as side hustles to their full-time "big cellar" jobs.

After it formed a partnership with distributor Dave Nel in 2016, Publik grew into a household name for those who love grapes that are picked and fermented off the beaten track. By "beaten track" we mean some unusual, yet tasty, treats with names like Blacksmith Basilisk or Raised by Wolves, made by small-timers.

These wines are not the type you can pick up at your local supermarket. That is exactly why Cope has introduced Publik tastings and fairs. They’re especially useful for non-Capetonians who can’t pop into Cope’s Kloof Nek wine bar — after all, there’s nothing like a little try before you buy.

Method to the madness

"SA wine is in a great place right now, as the market is embracing the independent artisanal winemakers who release limited amounts of high-quality wines made by natural methods," explains Cope.

The nice thing about small-batch wines is that their makers are able to experiment — they can try out trendy organic, biodynamic and minimal-intervention methods that would probably be off the cards for the bigger wine brands.

The minimal-intervention method is of particular interest to Cope at the moment. The term "encompasses more than terms like organic or biodynamic", he says. Minimal intervention ensures that a wine gives an honest reflection of the grapes and is not a manipulated product made in a purely commercially orientated way.

"I think many consumers don’t realise that mass-volume products are made using additives to control the process and flavour of wines," he says.

"Discerning consumers are careful to eat local organic food or choose free-range meat. It would be great to have that same interest in choice of wine."

At Publik’s tasting in Joburg more than 100 wines — poured by over 25 winemakers — will be available for tasting.

The FM asked Cope to choose his top 10 wines for the thirsty and the curious. Here is the list and his comments.

Alheit Vineyards Cartology 2017

The wine is arguably consistently the best white wine that has been made in SA over the past few years. This is a bold statement, but the Alheits have moved from having a wine just representing one vineyard or area to making a product that expresses the entire Cape. They use grapes from vineyards spread out over the whole winemaking region for this wine.

Alheit was recently voted best SA producer in the "2018 SA Special Report" by Tim Atkin.

The Blacksmith Basilisk "pet nat" 2017

You get bubbly made in the champagne style and then this, a single-fermentation that is done mostly in the bottle, called a pétillant-naturel. This method is a balancing act that takes great care and produces a deliciously crisp bubbly. This one is made from cinsault grapes.

Raised by Wolves sémillon gris 2016

All grapes are equal, but some grapes are more equal than others. Like sémillon gris, an extremely rare mutation of sémillon that hardly happens outside SA. Its grape skins turn pink and provide added texture and flavour to the product. This wine is a side project by Mulderbosch winemaker Adam Mason and is a superb example.

Fram pinotage 2016

Thinus Krüger sources fruit from an old vineyard north of Citrusdal for this pinotage. It’s a version that is brighter and fresher than most, yet still maintains good weight and ample character. If you don’t think you enjoy pinotage, withhold judgment until you try this one.

Momento tinta barocca 2017

The Portuguese grape varieties provide a partial solution for winemakers to the water crisis in the Cape. These are hardy vines that are less needy and still produce quality fruit. Verdelho is a good white grape, and on the red side it’s hard to beat tinta barocca. The wine is delicate, perfumed and perfectly balanced between fruit and tannin.

Mount Sutherland pinot noir 2014

What happens when you plant vines in the middle of nowhere in the Great Karoo? You get a feast for the baboons and birds, mostly. Luckily there is some fruit left each year for the team at Mount Sutherland to harvest and produce tiny amounts of unique wines like this pinot noir.

Gabriëlskloof Landscape Series cabernet franc 2016

A single vineyard on this Overberg estate is used by winemaker Peter-Allan Finlayson to produce this fine example of the grape, an unsung hero of bordeaux that in this wine shows its full potential. It’s a fuller-style wine that will age for decades.

Thistle & Weed Duwweltjie chenin blanc 2017

This is made as a part-time project by viticulturist Etienne Terblanche and winemaker Stephanie Wiid. It sells out on release and is further testament to the joys of straight chenin blanc. Who would think a wine named after a painful thorn would be so enjoyable?

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Kreatuur 2017

This is the child of a couple of designers, a winemaker and a filmmaker who joined together to produce some wine under their own label. Theirs is a tiny production of a few barrels from a handful of wines that show the creativity and imaginative side of the local wine industry. The wines taste as good as the packaging is attractive.

Kottabos grenache syrah 2017

Reenen Borman is unquestionably one of the young stars in the local industry. He produces wine at Boschkloof, under the Patatsfontein label, and also two wines under the Kottabos range. His red blend shows the quality and value of lighter-style red blends produced here.

Tickets for the Publik Wine Fair are limited and available at R200 per person at publik.co.za

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