There is an isolated tribe of hunter-gatherers in the Philippines known as the Agta, who, when asked which roles and qualities they most valued within their community, didn’t choose hunters or even healers as their most valued members.
Who did they choose? Storytellers. The Agta storytellers held the most prestigious status in the community, were the hangout buddies of choice, attracted the best partners and had the most children (averaging 0.5 more children than their peers for the statistically minded among you). As far back as we can remember, people have told and listened to stories. Storytelling is a universal human trait, existing in every single culture ever studied. Ask most wine lovers with more than two minutes to spare why they love wine, and they’ll tell you it’s more than just flavour and tannin structure, it’s about THE STORY (10 to 1 someone will use the word TIMECAPSULE). And they’re right. In many ways, wine is the story of a year on a farm – of the soil, the wind and the rain, of battling the elements. But the best wines that have always stood out in memory have stories that are so much more than meteorology, geography and pedology. They have personalities. There are few winemakers that understand the art of storytelling quite as well as Bruce Jack of the Drift. Perhaps this comes from having studied English Literature at both the University of Cape Town and St Andrews in Scotland before pursuing winemaking in Adelaide, followed by years of philosophising that comes with the winemaking territory; or perhaps being the child of a musician and an architect, he was destined to tell stories – or make wine. Nestled against the ancient Akkedisberg in the Overberg, a mountain range created by the meeting of the Atlantic and Antarctic, windswept and isolated, the Drift farm sets the scene for stories and mysticism, complete with its own host of wine characters and genres, from animals and Greek myths to famous authors and bagpipe players.
The Year of The Rooster Rosé is a love story, so named because both Bruce and his wife Penelope were born in the Chinese zodiac year of the rooster. Fated to be a terrible match by the Chinese ancients, two married roosters were predicted to peck themselves to death. However, far from being a henpecked pair, Bruce and Penelope have emerged a power couple – he does the wines and she the designs (Penelope is the artist behind the intricate Drift labels). Made to be a rosé that James Bond would drink, this is far from your candyfloss equivalent of a Mills & Boon paperback. The love story continues in the retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Penelope’s devotion to her husband in South Africa’s only MCC made from Touriga Franca grapes. It had taken Bruce years to attempt naming a wine after his wife, who finally conceded only because it was her favourite style of wine.
Another wine is the story of mistaken identity. What was supposed to be an order for Tempranillo vines turned out to be Barbera instead. A catastrophe, as there was no way this grape was going to survive the Drift’s extreme conditions. Before they could send the vines back to their supplier however, SOMEONE (whose identity has yet to be revealed) had already planted the vineyard. As an apology, the suppliers waived the cost of the doomed Barbera. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, Bruce Jack decided to go ahead with the grape and give it a try. They expected it to be their worst wine. But, by the irony of the gods, The Gift Horse turned out to be one of their best.
There are more characters of course. There’s the nod to Hemingway’s memoir of writing and tasting through Paris with Moveable Feast, intended to “paint the landscape with aromas and flavours, and use wine grapes as our art materials”, depicting every family member on the label, including the bagpipes, which Bruce plays to his maturing wines. Winemaking alchemy and the ancient mysticism of the landscape with its ruins built by Hessequa Khoi that predate Stonehenge are hinted at in There Are Still Mysteries Pinot Noir, the only vineyard to have survived a fire that consumed the farm in 2006, leaving everything else a desolate moon landscape.
The Drift farm itself acts as backdrop and story of Bruce Jack’s history. Built in the 90s by his father, Dave Jack (the architect), it’s a farm based on generational thinking, illustrated by the naming of each vineyard after a maternal ancestor in the Jack/Passmore (Penelope’s maiden name) family tree. While not intended to be a wine farm – Dave Jack had originally planned to farm organic fruits and vegetables, which the farm still does – after establishing Flagstone, the first ever urban winery in the V&A Waterfront back before it had become en vogue for South African winemakers to buy in grapes not their own, Bruce felt the Drift was the perfect place to grow, make and cellar his own wines, described by assistant winemaker Jason Snell as far out wines that push boundaries. Or “wine for nerds”.
Never judge a book by its cover, as the cliché goes. However, when viewing the Drift’s wine labels we cannot help but be awed and judge – ever so slightly – the artistic genius (and touch of obsession) that has gone into creating these intricate designs. While Penelope Jack designs the labels, all lettering is done BY HAND by calligrapher Andrew van der Merwe, letterpressed onto handmade paper imported from Italy and then hand-torn and hand-glued onto each bottle, highlighting the absence of mass production in these small quantity wines. Often, labels will go through intense discarding processes in the search of artistic perfection. The result, however, is as tactile as it is personal, with letters that swoop and curve like fynbos on the back labels, perfectly capturing the spirit of each wine’s story.