In Act 1, you met a team of renegades who foolishly thought they could just wake up one day, pick some fruit and make some wine. As though it were an ancient past time that required little more than leaving grapes to ferment and finding a vessel in which to let it pass the time. How quaint.
With the clock ticking and the odds stacked against them, they enlisted help from anyone who was willing to give it. Somehow those people happened to be more capable than could realistically have been expected.
That just about brings you up to speed.
A few days later, our motley crew returned to Hemel-en-Aarde to pick half a ton of Syrah. The grapes were sitting at 22 Brix, which meant that they hadn’t yet turned into Shiraz. This was great news because the moment they did, Niels Verburg was rumored to descend from the mountains and pounce upon whatever remained on the vines.
If you’re serious about Syrah, there’s nobody better to talk to than Reenen Borman of Boschkloof and Sons of Sugarland fame. So we did. Reenen suggested that we de-stem half of our grapes, and whole-bunch ferment the rest. So we did. He encouraged us to gently punch down the cap every day. So we did. He suggested we sterilize everything beforehand.
But what does he know?
What he knows is that some South African wines have a tendency to be overtly fruity. In the case of Syrah, whole bunch fermentation can temper that fruit with freshness and elegance. It's a handy tool.
Reenen's proposition was very appealing. Fermenting on the stems can give a confectionery-like-5am-in-a-Lebanese-bakery-vibe to the nose and more of a briny/herbal taste. And if that paradox doesn't get you going, then I'm afraid you're wrong.
And that was pretty much that. Through some miracle, the grapes fermented like Reenen said they would. We pressed them into our old barrel and hoped for the best.
In the ensuing months of barrel top-ups and trips to Vinlab, we settled on a name for our venture. As the back label would later attest to, we were a bunch of clowns juggling jobs, lives and responsibilities, and we owed whatever we got right to the kindness of actual farmers and winemakers. We were the Circus Winery, and decided that we would represent the community and kindness we had been shown.
We agreed that our wines would follow an ethos of joy and experimentation. We also swore that we would never use the word “ethos” again and that no matter how busy we got, we would remain actively immersed in every step of the process.
There’s nothing wrong with the negociant model, but we weren’t interested in buying wine and slapping a label on it. For Circus, the act of renting a trailer, sealing barrels, and getting our hands dirty was essential to appreciating the end result. And that’s exactly how it turned out, the 12-month stewardship from vine to bottle being the greatest lesson in wine appreciation that we could ever possibly have.
When that 2019 Syrah was bottled, we were frothing with expectation. The vitals were ideal: A low pH and alcohol, the wine had a candied nose, but a floral, savoury quality. The whole bunch approach had softened both the tannins and the fruit, and produced something we were quite proud of.
The plaudits rolled in thick and fast, with my mom calling it: the best wine I've ever had and not just because you made it.
Revered Platter's taster, Fiona McDonald said: I did try it, but that was months ago, while old mate Butch Alheit was equally effusive, commenting: I'm not sure what I did with the bottle, but thanks for the Houwhoek pies. Reenen Borman, no doubt feeling challenged at the top of the Syrah totem, insisted: that's not a bad Merlot.
Look, it's not like we were hanging on every word. Anyway, we were comfortable that Circus had produced a wine that was actually somewhat drinkable.
But disaster was looming.
We had big plans and big problems. 2020 was around the corner.
Coming soon, in Act 3:
- Obviously 2020 was a shit-show
- Four more clowns enter the tent
- A growing empire needs a new home
- Sure, we can do 6 different wines