Picture: 123RF/dmitrimaruta
Picture: 123RF/dmitrimaruta

Every industry has its renegades, those who follow their own path, bring new levels of creativity and broaden the concept of what’s possible. In the wine world, there’s a rapidly growing movement of young winemakers who have decided to follow their own vision rather than the market.

These new-school winemakers are true artisans, often working with tiny, almost uneconomical volumes to produce wines that express their vision.

In the spirit of this world of fine craft and exploration, the FM asked David Cope, the man behind Publik wine bars and a purveyor of the good, interesting stuff to highlight a handful of these renegades, ones we should all keep an eye on. Joburgers, take note — they’re all going to be at the Publik Wine Fair, an artisan wine show held at Victoria Yards on November 16, where you can meet the makers and taste their wines.

Tremayne Smith — The Blacksmith

With his thick beard and armful of tattoos, Smith resembles a rock star or modern chef more than he does most winemakers. He takes his ink as seriously as his wines, enough to have all his labels illustrated by his tattoo artist. With names like Reap What You Sow or Barebones, they make for a distinctive and beautiful range when lined up.

Like so many artisan producers, he sources fruit from all over the Cape to make a diverse selection. He works with grapes like durif, colombard and carignan and isn’t afraid to experiment with skin contact when making white wine (essentially making a white wine like a red wine) or to produce pétillant naturel sparkling wines (only one fermentation, as opposed to wines in the Champagne method), among other techniques.

Chris Alheit — Alheit Vineyards

Only a handful of wines are released with urgent anticipation each year, with market demand far outweighing supply and only the lucky few getting an allocation, often just a single case. Every wine Chris Alheit produces fits into this category. Yet for one of the Cape’s most revered winemakers, he is incredibly modest.

Quiet-spoken and humble, his decision years ago to focus on the numerous old chenin blanc vineyards scattered around the Cape has played a large part in his success. It was Cartology, a wine made from old vine chenin with a touch of sémillon, that established him and is still today what many believe to be the best white blend in the country.

He has since released several single-vineyard wines with names like Magnetic North Mountain Makstok, Fire By Night and Nautical Dawn, made from low-yielding vineyards difficult to farm, but clearly worth the effort.

Carla Pauw — Saltare

Pauw took a roundabout route into winemaking, first studying human movement sciences and then town planning before finding fulfilment in wine. We’re grateful for this and as soon as you taste any of her limited-production méthode cap classique (made using the traditional Champagne method) sparkling wines, you’ll likely feel the same.

Based in Stellenbosch, working between a communal cellar and a tiny office on Dorp Street, Pauw has produced bubblies which have already brought her recognition but one to watch out for is the brand-new flagship, Cuvée Camille 2015, made purely from pinot noir grapes.

Thinus Kruger — Fram

He’s known for being part of the wilder bunch of young winemakers, but Kruger is far more than a great addition to any party. As comfortable discussing modern ethics or Homer’s Odyssey as talking you through the scientific details of fermentation, he’s an academic and a prolific reader.

Kruger is also a highly creative winemaker with a small yet diverse range: there’s the commercially approachable unwooded chardonnay and Swartland syrah, and then there’s the rest, including a wine simply labelled "dry white" made from an eclectic mix of grapes including chenel.

Adam Mason — Raised By Wolves

If you ask Mason why he produces a range of wines under the label Raised By Wolves, he shrugs and simply answers: "The tiger and lion may be more powerful, but the wolf does not perform in the circus." When he explains how he works with a collection of exceptional vineyards, mostly in Stellenbosch, yet produces wines so different to the traditional wines of this famous area, it starts to make sense.

For example his dry, skin-contact Muscat d’Alexandrie is fresh, floral and perfumed — it screams for a hot, humid day to enjoy it. All this from a grape better known for producing the heavily sweet wine your grandmother sipped each evening as an aperitif.

Marelise Niemann — Momento

After several years producing the wines for Beaumont winery in Botrivier, Niemann launched her Momento label, initially focused on grapes from the area but soon expanding to other areas, including the Swartland. She is now part of a dynamic crew of independent winemakers that share space at an Overberg cellar.

Among her range of five wines is arguably our best local version of the Portuguese variety tinta barocca as well as a wine made from the extremely rare, darker-skinned grenache gris grape. All the wines are small on volume, big on character.

Reenen Borman — Kottabos & Patatsfontein

Borman has a bustling energy that makes its way into his wines. Working at family cellar Boschkloof has allowed him to pursue his own wine projects on the side, producing wines from vineyards he discovers along the way.

His Kottabos range is named after "the world’s oldest drinking game", yet are two very serious wines. His Sons of Sugarland syrah, made from a single Stellenbosch vineyard, is ethereal and light for the variety, but lacks none of the complexity of heavier versions. Then there’s Patatsfontein, a wine made from an old chenin blanc vineyard outside Montagu that has been slowly coaxed into life and produces one of the finest examples of this variety.

Jacques de Klerk — Radford Dale

This Winemaker of the Year 2019 nominee is as passionate as he is playful, yet has stayed relatively behind the scenes. He’s also made some of the best modern wines in the past few years at the Radford Dale cellar on the R44 in Stellenbosch. His commitment to minimal intervention long before it became a catchphrase has built a range of wines that speak for themselves.

The brand’s Black Rock Swartland blend was the Platter’s Wine Guide overall Wine of the Year 2018 and it has the only farm committed to making quality wines from gamay noir, the red grape from Beaujolais that produces a juicy, tart red very well suited to our warm climate.

For more info on the Publik Wine Fair visit publik.co.za/publik-wine-fair