Tag Archives: winemaker

The Springfield Summer Games:

Where winemaking is an adrenaline sport

“So there I was in the helicopter, while Abrie was running around below with a thermometer finding patches of the vineyard where the air was below zero. All we needed to do was find the temperature inversion, fly the chopper in low enough, and then whip up the freezing air, mixing it with warmer air.”

And apparently that’s just how one deals with black frost in Robertson.

Mad max and Coca-cola

I had been chatting to Jeanette Bruwer, co-owner of Springfield Estate, and brother to winemaker Abrie Bruwer at one of the tastings of Springfield’s “Lost Vintage” release; the Methode Ancienne 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, and we’d gotten to chatting about the perils that await anyone who would try their hand at vinegrowing by day and frost fighting by night.

“Well, we don’t always do it that way,” responded Jeanette with Wind in the Willows-worthy wistfulness. “But Abrie has built us a big metal contraption that looks like something out of Mad Max, with flames and fans up at the top, that one can drive through the vineyards…”

She perked up again at the thought.

“It’s important to build fun into your work,” she continued. I don’t want to be making wine like they make coca-cola; picking grapes, adding yeast, putting it into a bottle. Again and again and again. Who wants to do that?! You must keep the fun in there. That was why we dropped those bottles into the ocean. That, and to give us another excuse to go fishing.”

But before learning about how Jeanette and her brother dropped 600 bottles of wine into the ocean, and then spent 3 and a half years trying to find them again, perhaps you deserve a little backstory:

“When I was a young warhog…”

NINETEEN ninety seven was beautifully cool vintage in Robertson; ideal for producing incredible grapes, and therefore superlative wines. There is the common misconception that it’s tough to produce great wine in Robertson because of the heat, but the reality is that the nights are incredibly cold, allowing nocturnal respite for the vines.
“Back then you had to be a really shitty winemaker not to make something incredible,” continued Jeannette. “Not like 2015; that was a very tough year.”

The question I was wondering was, “if 1997 was such a great year, why on earth would you have to wait two decades for this guy to be ready to sing?” It certainly doesn’t improve your cash flow to have to wait 20 years before seeing a return on your investment…So, as Austin Powers is fond of asking, “What does it all mean, Basil?!”

Native yeast: how to have less cowbell in your wine

“So here is the thing,” answered Jeanette, “We really love to drink, but we hate getting drunk, so we decided the obvious solution was to make lower alcohol wines. The shift to native yeast (over inoculated yeast) was an obvious way to do this.
“When using natural yeast, you need more sugar to create 1% alcohol than you would need with cultivated yeast. With natural yeast, you have a much longer fermentation (five days can become seven weeks!) and so the longer period of time means that more volatile alcohol evaporates. The end result; lower ABV.”

“But,” Jeanette continued (with what turned out to be a twenty-year-long “but”), “the skins are in contact with the juice for all that time. Take into account that we still crushed the grapes in those days, and add the fact that we used all new oak barrels and you have one helluva blockbuster wine. In the worst sense possible.”

It was like the Mars Volta of wine; massive, complex, layered, masterful, unbearable…and almost certainly contraindicated for anyone with a pacemaker. Proof that sometimes you can have too much awesomeness.

In the Drink

So, with the Springfield team unwilling to release the wine, and loathed to turf it, most winemakers would have resigned themselves to the long wait. But as we have seen thus far, life at the Bruwer house is hardly an episode of Leave it to Beaver. Hell, if anything, it’s more like the opening credits to Danger Bay.

Having read about the possibility of a lengthy ocean dip speeding up the aging process, the Springfield team decided to continue the Danger Bay theme by welding together some metal cages, filling them with 600 bottles of the yet-to-be-lost vintage, and then sinking them to the bottom of the ocean.

“It should be added at this point that large sharks are not uncommon in Struisbaai, and strong currents are a regular affair”

“We waited for the stormiest day, because we didn’t want anyone else out there seeing what we were doing,” continued Jeanette. “We were all ready to dump the bottles – it was 1999, by the way. We had just got a fancy new GPS, and Abrie turned to me and asked, ‘where’s the pen?’ As if we always carried pens with us when we went out fishing in the middle of the storm! Obviously, I didn’t have one, so there was Abrie desperately carving the co-ordinates into the side of the boat with his knife.
Then, with almost Old Testament storytelling aplomb, she paused to add, “They are still there to this day.”
“By the time he was done, we had drifted terribly, of course, so, when we started looking for the cages six months later, they were nowhere to be found.”

It should be added at this point that large sharks are not uncommon in Struisbaai, and strong currents are a regular affair, which goes someway to explaining why the immediate search was not more thorough. But as fortune would have it, three and a half years later, on a New Year’s Day, while the family was out on a leisure cruise, that the metal cages just happened to be poking out from behind a rocky crag!

“Caloo Callay,” chortled winelovers in their joy. The prodigal vintage that was lost, and had now been found! It was Nemo, Lassie, and Free Willy all rolled into one joyous aquatic frollick…

But sadly that all went down in 2003, and as history has shown, the wines that emerged from Davy Jones’s cellar were far from ready.
“The whole adventure had sped up the aging process by about five or six years, but they still weren’t ready.  Funnily enough, now [in 2017], those 600 bottles are ready to be drunk, whereas the rest of the 1997 vintage will still continue to improve until 2020 at least. The idea was to use all those things that could ordinarily ruin a wine…movement, UV light, a slightly elevated temperature…and I guess it worked.”

“But, but, but….aren’t you going to sell those wines that you sunk?” I asked, desperately curious to know if I would be able to taste the sea spray, or pick up subtle complications of barnacle and Great White.

“But why?” retorted Jeanette. “It’ll be much more fun to drink them all on the farm!”

Fair deuce.

I want it all, and I want it now

For winelovers looking to do more than imbibe a good story, you can order your “Lost Vintage” Methode Ancienne 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Springfield website for R700.00, or make the drive out to Robertson and pay them a visit in person. You might even get to taste Captain Ahab’s share of that fateful batch…

Here’s my full review on the Springfield Methode Ancienne 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon.








Ruling with an Iron Schist:

A chat with Andrea Mullineux; the reluctant but undeniable queen of wine.

If the wine biz were showbiz, Andrea and Chris Mullineux would be Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Only a touch more classic. Sonny and Cher, perhaps.

Between the two of them, they have made wines on three different continents for some of the finest producers in the world. Whether Napa, Languedoc, Roussillon, Chateauneuf, Stellenbosch, or most recently, the Swartland, Andrea and Chris have represented some of the most exciting movements in winemaking. Mullineux & Leeu Family wines, with its HQ on Roundstone Farm near Riebeek Kasteel has been named Platter’s Winery of the year twice, is an integral founding element of the Swartland Independent Producers, and just happens to have produced a Platter’s Red Wine of the Year (2016), and Platter’s Dessert wine of the Year (2017).

** if you have no idea what a Platter’s Wine Guide award is, it’s sort of like an Oscar award for South African wines (voted by an academy or panel), rather than a Teen Choice Award-vibe (achieved through populist vote). So, a serious award. Like Tori-Amos-meets-Sinead-O’Connor serious.


And then there is the small matter of Andrea being named “WINE ENTHUSIAST’S WORLD WINEMAKER OF THE YEAR” for 2016. Now, I know that using a shouty BOLD ALL-CAPS typeface is considered rude, but (core blimey) if you can’t use it here, where can you use it? It’s not as if she just won second place at Miss BarleyCorn beauty pageant. The Wine Enthusiast’s World Winemaker award is (as the name suggests) a global accolade that could go to literally any one of the tens of thousands of winemakers the world over. What’s more, it is awarded to a winemaker “with groundbeakbreaking vision”; a game changer; someone who has seen further than their peers. Odin, rather than Loki.

All kneel before Zod!

So when interviewing this viniferic deity, I had hoped for some spicy ego; an element of shock rock…perhaps even a Yeezy-esque fiery third person declaration of grandeur.

Boy, I was I disappointed.

What I experienced instead was (if I’m not mistaken they call them “virtues”) humility, measured responses, a well-defined sense of place and context, and grounded grasp of where Andrea fits in the bigger scheme of things. Sure, it’s a letdown if you’re hoping for headlines & scandal, but if you’re looking to discover the sort of temperament it takes to produce wines that are taking the world by storm, then her thoughts and musings become a treasure trove for anyone with a respect for the earth, its fruit…and jolly stonking decent grog.

Q&A with AM

TMITB: The Wine Enthusiast’s award is for your “groundbreaking vision in winemaking”. If you’ve seen further than your peers, what do you think has been your most meaningful discovery? What have you seen that you’re burning to share with/teach others?

ANDREA: In my opinion I have not seen further, but perhaps I set my mind to a task, put on blinders to naysayers, and have gone for it. My biggest strength is attention to detail in the winery, and the only advice I can share is that it is all the little things that add up, so pay attention to every step along the way.


TMITB: Adi Badenhorst says that “you know exactly what you want in a wine, and the level of fruit it takes to produce that.”

In other interviews, you also talk about making “honest” wines. Is there not a contradiction between having a strong idea of what you want, and allowing the wine to be an honest expression of its terroir? Where is the line between the honesty of fruit & terroir and your personal desire in your winemaking?  Do you actively remove your own preferences in order to express the terroir? Or do you allow your “desire for a result” to influence what you do in the cellar? And does that diminish the notion of an “honest wine”?

ANDREA:I like to say I am the custodian of the wines and that I guide them through life, without forcing them to be something that they don’t want to be. Sometimes I step in a little more and am proactive if I foresee a problem. It is that act of knowing how much of my hand the vintage might need that I think is a strength in making honest wines.

Obviously I have a preference in what kind of expression I like in a wine, but  we chose vineyards that NATURALLY exhibit those qualities, rather than having to force it [in the cellar].


TMITB: What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the SA wine industry on an international stage?

ANDREA: Even though the South African wine industry has been around for several hundred years, it has still only been on the modern international scene for a couple of decades. The quality wines are getting better and better, but it is up to South Africa to create the exposure for the wines. We must not sit back and wait for people to discover us!


TMITB: What excites you most about South African Wine, and what is your hope for its future?

ANDREA: The exponential increase in overall wine quality is the most exciting thing. It means that South African wines are right up there with the best of the world and it is only a matter of time before more people see that internationally.


TMITB: You have some of South Africa’s most exciting winemakers as your friends and neighbours… What are some of the most valuable lessons you have learnt from peers like Adi Badenhorst? Eben Sadie? and Callie Louw?

ANDREA: A rising tide lifts all boats. We are all very close friends and share a lot as winemakers, so we realise that when one of us does well, it uplifts everyone.


TMITB: In your winemaking (or life in general), when you hit a moment of self-doubt, or an emotional low, what are the fears that come to the fore in those times?

ANDREA: Everyone wants to succeed in life, but we need to make sure that all the time, effort, blood, sweat and tears are worth it. We all have to make sacrifices, but we must never regret the way we have lived our lives.


TMITB: Who are the people who inspire you to climb out of those moments? How do they achieve this?

ANDREA: Chris, my husband and business partner is always there for me emotionally. He is my rock and will always brighten my day.


TMITB: Your tip for an up-and-coming winemaker for us to look out for?

ANDREA: My ex-assistant winemaker, Tremayne Smith, is making some awesome wines of his own now, and he really lets his own personal style shine through; both in the wine and the packaging, which is great.

TMITB: Okay, oaky. It’s all good and well to talk about wine until the cows come home, but how much do you really know about someone until you have watched them walk unflinchingly away from a cinematic explosion, while some bad-ass tunes play in the background? Nothing, right? So, for the sake of the exercise, we will just have to imagine you walking in slow motion with flames in the background, but I would need you to pick a song for us to play while we do so. What is your bad-ass-explosion-theme-tune?

ANDREA: Without a doubt, Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion”.

TMITB: A veritably royal choice, M’Lady. Let’s see how that works out!