If you’re making one barrel of wine you can do it quietly behind Sam’s cottage, like your 16-year old former self hiding cherry tobacco rollies from your folks. But when you’ve secured grapes from six enviable sites all over the Cape, you need a new tent.
A little research suggested that there was no longer any wyn being made in Wynberg. This was a travesty that we took upon ourselves to resolve.
Oh and there were eight of us now. We'd invited a few friends to join the cast and hired the interested ones immediately. Dave, Dan (no.2), Dom and Ryan all brought something different to the party, but “I don't have enough time in the day” and “a tendency to overcommit” were universal requirements.
Of course there was no time to waste, the 2020 harvest beginning mid-January with the collection of some organic Verdelho.
What did we know about Verdelho? Not a whole lot, other than the wonderful Momento Chenin Verdelho blend, and Guillaume Nell’s lovely debut Lysa Verdelho. He arranged half a ton for us, and we agreed to produce something extraordinary.
Ironically it was our limitations that would hold us to that promise. Without a cold room, a steel tank, or any filtration equipment, our hand was forced; we would be fermenting the grapes on their skins and extracting every bit of colour, texture and tannin. And if the air-con didn't work, we'd extract a bit more.
We would end up with an Orange wine, forcing us to front up to some of the difficult questions still plaguing the industry:
Is it ok to like Orange wine?
Is it ok to make Orange wine?
If yes: is it ok to make it if you don’t live in Riebeek Kasteel?
Is it technically even wine?
Does that technically even matter?
Is it just me or is that Aperol Spritz?, and
Is there a local importer of Radikon?
We were just happy to be part of the conversation. Except for Dan. Dan fucking hated the conversation.
The Circus equipment was still what you might call primitive. Harvest was gaining momentum, and week after week we’d take the truck and trailer somewhere new to begin the cycle again. Our ornamental basket press was about to receive a timely upgrade.
Spirits were further raised when Butch pulled through with some glorious Swartland Caviar. Ever the contrarian, he had taken to that name now that “Chenin Blanc” was finally on everyone else’s lips.
We also had two contrasting Pinot’s, our Syraaah was back, and the legend himself, Ian Naudé, had found us some Banhoek Cab Sauv that was free, as long as we picked before the farm owners returned from Christmas holidays.
Ian could not have been more generous with his time, his knowledge and someone else’s grapes. Especially considering how busy he was pioneering "a cryogenically frozen ice wine made from Assyrtiko, Red Crouchen Blanc and Unripe Strawberries". Keep an eye out for that in 2042.
The Circus empire was building up quite an oeuvre, but whether it would be any good was another story. We hoped for the best, and planned for it too, by putting some thought into our new labels.
Colorful minimalism would win out over vintage Circus freaks, bringing a calming uniformity to the range. This was just as well, because with an expanding cast of performers and only a barrel or so of each, none of the wines would ever be available. We were getting our wines all dressed up with nowhere to go, which felt strangely appropriate in 2020.
The epidemic and resulting lockdown obviously found other ways to make life difficult, as did the Troublemaker Chenin which fermented vigorously for about 8 months. But when the time came for bottling, they were indeed... wines. Good ones, apparently; the Scientists at Vinlab unable to find any faults.
Our Tightrope and Trapeze Pinot’s are indeed from the same valley, but their different soils, aspect and picking date make for a fascinating study in pluralism. One sits below 13% alcohol, the other above 14%. One is tight, focused and will benefit from years in the bottle, the other is loose, exciting and wildly expressive. No prizes for guessing which is which. A real joy was, and remains, identifying their contrasts and the likely reasons for them.
Meanwhile the Maximus Syrah 2020 is from the original block, with an almost identical analysis to our 2019 wine. Yet for all the similarities, there are some remarkable differences.
Apparently it's vintage variation. It might turn into our new ethos.
Join us tomorrow as we finally get to the point in the thrilling finale of this 4-part series