A Swartland Renaissance Part 2

  • By Jamie Drummond
  • 15 Oct 2020
  • 6 MIN
  • Level 101

In Part 2 learn about the pioneering young winemakers behind Swartland's wine renaissance.If one were to point to a catalyst for the recent Swartland renaissance it would lie squarely at the feet of the Swartland Independent Producers group.

Rising from the ashes of the infamous weekend-long wine-soaked bacchanal that was the Swartland Revolution (2010 - 2015), founders (and pioneering young Winemakers) Adi Badenhorst, Eben Sadie, Chris and Andrea Mullineux, and Callie Louw of Porseleinberg made the decision to begin anew with a professional association that harnessed their seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm for the region’s nascent potential, and then open it up to other like-minded producers. Looking at SIP’s growth since its inception, it appears that there were quite a number of those.

Over the intervening years SIP has seen some 18 or so independent wineries sign up for the cause, and impressively they have collectively come up with a set of SIP’s regional rules and regulations that bear more than a passing resemblance to Europe’s historied appellation systems. This is a deliberate move, for sure.

From region-specific SIP Wine Of Origin certification, through an admirable adherence to more “natural” winemaking practices (no inoculation with commercial yeast and/or bacterium, no acidification, no addition of tannin, no use of modern technology to in any way enhance/alter the wine (i.e. reverse osmosis, spinning cones, and the like), no chemical fining, no use of more than 25% new European cooperage (as according to SIP “heavy oaking can mask the essence of the grape”), to a strict list of approved grape varieties (Syrah/Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Carignan, Cinsaut, Tinta Barocca, Pinotage, Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette Blanche, Palomino (known locally as Fransdruif/Vaalblaar), Sémillon (known locally as Groendruif), Muscat Alexandrie, Muscat d’Frontignan, Colombard, and Verdelho). Finally, all SIP wines must be bottled in “Burgundy shape” bottles.

The varietal selection is of particular interest as the association mutually decided to eschew some of the more widely planted grapes of the country, namely Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Chenin and Pinotage aside, there is a decidedly Mediterranean influence at work here, but all with the eventual aim of producing wines with a definite sense of “Swartlandness”, and this can be no bad thing.

According to their website “This list of grapes will be reviewed every few years, especially as a result of new varieties being planted in the region and an assessment of their ability to express Swartland terroir”, so SIP’s exhaustive promulgation is perhaps not quite as dogmatic as it may first appear; they are certainly open to a certain degree of experimentation, as that’s exactly what got them here in the first place. 

Looking at this undeniably ambitious manifesto, one has to be impressed that so many interested parties could sit down at a table and agree upon such stipulations over the course of five or so years, but perhaps all that Swartland wine helps a little.

With SIP leading the Swartland’s trailblazing charge, the future looks decidedly brighter yet for what has evolved into an utterly compelling South African region.

Swartland Old Chenin Blanc vineyards - Credit : Courtesy of Mullineux