Friday, 15 January 2016

Zoo Biscuits, South Africa’s fun-loving winemakers

Back in 2012 at Cape Wine, a once-every-three-year wine trade fair at Cape Town organised by Wines of South Africa (WOSA), it was the Swartland Independent that attracted the most attention from visitors. Today, this energetic group of winemakers have grown to 26 producers with established reputation.

At 2015 Cape Wine, the new kid in town was The Zoo Biscuits, ‘a like minded bunch of winemakers crafting uniquely different and delicious wines across the Western Cape’, according to their own description. After talking to a few of them, I found that they share similar philosophy as the Swartland Independent, which is to make wines with minimum intervention that truly express the terroir. These two groups of winemakers are both passionate and creative, and with a soft spot for forgotten plots. The only difference is that The Zoo Biscuits producers can source grapes from the entire Western Cape, rather than confined to only one region.

Why the name Zoo Biscuits, the iced animal shapes on a vanilla biscuit? Well, I was told that it is the children’s favourite snacks in South Africa representing fond memories and fun times.

I first tried Zoo Biscuits’ wines at their informal braai party on the eve of Cape Wine. It was a self-poured tasting where wines were scattered across a couple of table and guests helped themselves with the tasting. I spot small groups of people drinking beer at the side and immediately knew they were the winemakers. I was told by one of them that they would shortly make a small introduction so guests knew who were the people behind the wine but this never happened. Although a bit chaotic, the atmosphere was great and the wine spoke for itself. Zoo Biscuits’ pavilion was one of the two busiest over the three days of Cape Wine (the other one was Swartland Independent). Their pavilion was fun, friendly and inviting - exactly like the name. I enjoyed talking to them and could see how their passions quickly spread to visitors. They reminded me why I love wine and study winemaking in the first place. Wine is all about people. I wish them all the best and am sure they would rise like the Swartland Independent. Look out for these names:

Momento Wines: Very impressive 100% Tinta Barocca and a Chenin/Verdelho blend. Winemaker Marelise Niemann is based in Bot River but sourced grapes from the entire Western Cape. She believes wine should reflect all the elements involved: the sun, soil, water and earth – along with people, personalities, ideas and experiences.

Thorne and Daughters Wine: Winemaker John Seccombe, originally from England and a former classmate from Plumpton College, only makes white wine. The Rocking Horse Cape White, a blend of Chenin Blanc, Rousanne, Semillon Blanc and Gris, and Chardonnay, takes its name from a wooden rocking horse that he made for his daughters out of old oak barrel staves. It is one of the finest examples of Cape white blend. He aims to make wines that tell a story, not wines that shout and bang a drum.

Crystallum: A small winery run by a brother team Andrew and Peter-Allan Finlayson, the third generation of Finlayson winemakers, in Walker Bay region. They focus to produce classic wines in a new world context that reflect a traditional, age-old way of working coupled with the new world vineyards. The brothers only work with Burgundian varieties—Pinot Noir and Chardonnay—from both single and multiple vineyards. The wines are a combination of elegance and fruit concentration.

Blackwater Wine: Another hands-off approach wine made by Francois Haasbroek, who believes that the structure of wine should come from the quality of grapes, and that too high extraction during fermentation will only result in clumsy tannins. His two most understated wines are the Underdog Chenin Blanc and the Cultellus Syrah.

None of the above wines are available in Hong Kong yet. They are all small producers and their wines are not for the mass market. I hope someone would have the vision to bring them here for those who appreciate something different.

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