Stephanie Wiid and Etienne Terblanche, the founders of Thistle & Weed, belong to a tasting group called ‘Die Kurktrekkers’.
So named because no-one remembered to bring a corkscrew to their inaugural event. I’ve discovered the many, and varied, and sometimes mysterious tasting groups of the Cape, and found them to be INTRIGUING, to say the least. If I were a student of anthropology, I would choose THIS as the subject to my first thesis and would then go on to explore the various sub-categories of the Cape Tasting Group (you know, in its natural habitat…but also OUTSIDE its natural habitat… the research questions are forming as we speak). THIS because who you are in your tasting group, WHO your tasting group is, now THAT’S very likely to be the person you ARE … in wine, in life… call me Freud… or Maslow; my hierarchy of needs culminating in the perfect bottle of wine held up by all the OTHER bottles of wine I had to drink to find THAT wine and the people who lead me there. We’re getting off topic.
What ‘Die Kurktrekkers’ say about Stephanie and Etienne is the following, in no particular order:
Family Orientated - the members of this group are made up of wine people and their partners. Which with both Etienne and Stephanie having recently had their first babies (respectively), and Thistle & Weed having been born between the four of them (partners included), makes it a family affair, and the BEST kind of scenario for making wine.
Studious - ‘Die Kurktrekkers’ all studied together, and with Etienne just recently having completed a Ph.D. in Pinotage, and Stephanie a Masters in Petit Syrah it seems their interest in wine is far-reaching, academic, and eclectic.
Network - With people such as Mark Le Roux of Waterford, Johline Barnardt from Van Loveren Marketing, Edo Heyns of Advini, Altus Treunicht of Meerlust, ‘Kwaaitjie’ Izelle van Blerk of KWV, Paul Gerber of Le Lude and Monique Fourie from Grande Domaine they’ve got themselves a little group of Cape Wine cognoscenti - though both Etienne and Stephanie’s day jobs spread much wider than that. As winemaker at Fairview, going on ten years, Stephanie has had a front-row seat to Charles Back’s genius. While Etienne as a consultant to many of the Cape’s star winemakers and recently appointed Coastal Region Consultant at Vinpro has an unrivalled network of wine people and ‘secret’ vineyards to explore. A little-known fact about Stephanie is that her grandfather was Neil Joubert of Spier and one of the founders of the Stellenbosch Wine Route, making the wine network not so much her job, as it is in her blood.
Hard-working / Passionate - If you consider the BIG jobs both of them have, and the fact that since starting at Vinpro Etienne has stepped back to a shareholder position within Thistle & Weed - the success, detail and commitment that has gone into this brand is an example of hard work and what HAS to be an absolute passion for what they do.
Unpretentious -buy-in per person is R150, with the average value per bottle tasted at R500, though with the people involved I have a faint suspicion they have access to a number of intriguing wines. Their next event is billed to be on Mexican wines - MEXICAN.
I met Stephanie the other day, her three-month-old baby and nanny were sitting under the trees, right in our line of sight. With harvest coming up she explained, she had, had to employ someone to help. Once we’d gone through all my questions, Stephanie asked if I wanted to go and see the Duwweltjie vineyard which was close-by, in what is designated as Paarl, though it still SEEMS like Stellenbosch. The vineyard was obviously found by Etienne and belongs to a woman named Agnes, whose grandfather planted the block of Chenin in 1956 with a horse-drawn plough. The farm itself is not your average vineyard, offering Land Rover experiences on the side and horses on the other - though as I’ve been discovering, vineyard owners need to be smart in order to justify their vineyards these days. The name ‘Duwweltjie’ is in reference to a type of weed that grows these terrible little thorns that sticks to everything and flowers WITH the vine- which, while picking the thorns out of their shoe soles seemed the only natural name for the wine. We arrived at the vineyard in convoy, with baby and nanny in tow. Stephanie and I both have very city-dweller type cars, and I suppose we looked like city-dwellers coming to pay homage to the vines (which we were). Stephanie promptly got out and offered for us to taste the wine, which she did opening her car boot, complete with fancy stemware and chilled wines - it was a car-bar and I was delighted. While Stephanie kept the car on so baby and nanny could benefit from the air-con, we walked through the vineyard and she talked about the wines, and I thought: “Now this is a woman.”
I’ve been noticing a trend while speaking to winemakers, though it’s not so much a trend as a varietal: CHENIN. Both the Duwweltjie and the Brandnetel (nettle) are Chenin Blanc, from the Paarl and Stellenbosch respectively. Though I can say the usual things: Chenin is versatile; it offers a unique snapshot of terroir; it responds very well to minimal interventionist wine-making techniques; it’s South Africa’s most widely planted varietal hence OLD VINES…etc. I tried to probe further, I wanted to know more - WHAT ELSE? Stephanie just turned around, looked me in the eye and said: “Chenin is cool, okay?” Which, given the fact that Tim Atkin rated the 2017 Brandnetel 94 points and said: “Combining stainless steel and oaked portions, both of them naturally fermented, this is a brilliantly assured Chenin Blanc with layers of citrus, pear, beeswax, and greengage flavours, complemented by creamy, leesy weight. 2019-24 “ - I’ll accept.
The Nastergal is an intricate, Portuguese blend of Tempranillo and Alicante Bouschet. Stephanie describes the Alicante as Cinsault with more colour. The resulting red blend is an inky purple, like the Nastergal (Night Shade) jam you can buy at one of the farmstalls in the Boland. I LOVE it, it reminded me of the Super Tuscans of Italy, with that purple wine gummy taste, not heavy at all and a winning experiment in drought-resistant varietals – though Stephanie says it was more out of their shared passion for Portuguese wines, both having spent some time in Alentejo and a happy coincidence, as they had originally gone out to find Touriga Nacional.
While I don’t normally draw attention to winemakers based on their gender, this only because I believe it shouldn’t be a factor when judging their wine or winemaking style – I was struck, in this instance by the realities of it. In the second trimester of her pregnancy, Stephanie lost her palate, while her sense of smell remained unaffected, she was forced to depend on what she KNEW something should taste like from the smell alone. And while it did come back, as a winemaker faced with tasting every day it must have been a challenge. I found her approach refreshing, natural and above all, a lifestyle. In this day and age, with politicians bringing their babies to parliament (see President of New Zealand), and winemakers bringing their babies to the vineyard, I find it a demonstration of their power and more so their passion for their chosen professions. Of women in wine, Stephanie says we need to do more to foster that community – which if they’re anything like her, would be a formidable crowd… perhaps a tasting group I could study? Of Thistle & Weed we’re fortunate to offer you the full range of latest vintages, including the Brandnetel, 94 rated Tim Atkin vintage – and we look forward to what THIS harvest will offer up, what with Stephanie having a thing for Loire-style Cab Franc…