If the word pioneering is a cliché in wine, the reality is that new wine regions in the New World often emerge as a result of a few brave souls going out on a limb. So it is with Swartland, the Cape wine region justifiably garnering attention and praise for wines based largely on Rhône styles .
Fairview's Charles Back paved the way with his Spice Route winery in Malmesbury. I met Eben Sadie there more than a decade ago when he was sweating in the sultry heat as Charles Back's winemaker. Putting his faith in Swartland's unirrigated, old bush vines, Sadie branched out on his own to exploit the deep soils and Mediterranean climate. His great syrah-based Columella and white blend Palladius have inspired others to follow suit, but what caught my eye this year was his breathtaking white blend, the 2012 Skerpioen.
On the same trip to this landscape of rolling grainfields and craggy mountain ranges, I caught up with the new supernovas of the Swartland, Chris and Andrea Mullineux, and tasted their superb chenin blanc-based 2012 Mullineux White, a wine of distinctive aromatics and textured ripe apple and stonefruit, and the distinctive 2011 Mullineux Syrah, all spice, tar, pepper and dark cherry in Northern-Rhône-like vein. They also make the excellent-value Kloof Street Red blend.
"People are saying the Swartland is about freshness but it's not; the hallmark of the Swartland wines is texture," says Adi Badenhorst, who cut his teeth making wine at the historic Rustenberg farm in Stellenbosch. Badenhorst makes a fine range on his enchanting estate, from the terrific-value white rosé and red Secateurs range to the more intense AA Badenhorst Family White and Red, along with a deliciously nutty AA Badenhorst Funky White.
Among other special wines to look out for are David and Nadia Sadie's (no relation to Eben) 2012 Aristargos, a Rhône-style white blend, and Craig Hawkins and Carla Kretzel's spicy 2010 Lammershoek Syrah. Keep an eye out, too, for Porseleinberg. In the inhospitably virgin rocky shale of the Porcelain Mountain, Marc Kent has planted syrah and achieved amazing results already with his first vintage.
The 23 wine producers who make up the SIP (Swartland Independent Producers) in this close-knit rural community all burn with various degrees of such youthful energy and enthusiasm that it's hard not to be moved by their story and their wines. Indeed, it's through this inspirational combination of wine and soul that Swartland is making waves.