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The Man and the Wolf

“NOW this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky, And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die."

The Man and the Wolf

"As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;

For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.” 

-The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling 

While Adam Mason is a lone wolf in a pack of like-minded lone wolves, his reasoning for the name ‘Raised by Wolves’ was much simpler than any literary meaning I could assign to it. In fact, he stumbled upon it quite by chance, one evening, late night, debating how he might identify HIS brand amongst a sea of individualistic, high-end, boutique wines. As fate would have it, his drinking partner that particular evening was an Aussie mate, who after listening quietly, nursing his glass, took a drag of his cigarette and almost in defeat said: “Tell them you were f**king raised by wolves, mate.” {Adam, I’m paraphrasing, but this is how I see it playing out.} The idea so resonated with him that he named his range of multi-regional, small production wines Raised by Wolves, the Mowgli of the South African wine industry. 

The Wolf

Adam is a winemaker. He studied it at the University of Stellenbosch; spent numerous harvests in France; worked at Boschendal; Flagstone; a wine export business in Cape Town; harvests in the Napa Valley (Screaming Eagle and Mayacamas); and most notably Klein Constantia for 8 years before becoming head winemaker at Mulderbosch (the ’s’ you’re pronouncing in the middle doesn’t exist, so stop it), a position he still holds, while also managing Yardstick wines, the company responsible for the production of Raised by Wolves. Adam Mason, therefore, being a bit like a Russian Doll of winemaking, a doll within a doll - though one might contend that the little-ist and most precious “doll” may very well be the wines of Raised by Wolves, the result of all that experience. When asked what he took from each experience and what the difference would be between the wines of France and America (Mulderbosch is American owned) he says: Winemaking in France is a birthright, they do it almost with ‘les doigts dans le nez’ (fingers in the nose/ naturally). Whereas winemaking in America is a counterculture, people who make and enjoy wine being so different from the majority of their countrymen, thereby having so much more to prove. Subsequently, they go to great lengths to experiment with, and find the right viticultural and oenological practices - which sometimes comes off a bit vulgar when judged by the old world - though given the great disparity between ‘birthright winemaking’ and ‘new world winemaking’, it was always going to be perceived as such. Given his experience with both, I find Adam to be a prime example of what South African winemaking has become. His career mimics the evolution of the South African wine industry, starting with the rigidity of our old style winemaking, something he experienced at Klein Constantia, during which he was tasked with making the world-renowned Vin de Constance, understandably not a formula they were willing to deviate from. Of his time at Klein Constantia, he says he is grateful for the experience but also grateful to be free of the weight that came with the farm. Of living in Constantia he says: “I’m a flippen winemaker, not a millionaire.” From there he moved to Mulderbosch, where he continued making Yardstick Wines - a side project which allowed him the freedom he so craved to experiment with different sites and winemaking techniques, not afforded him at the more established wine farms. Making him one of the leading wolves in what feels like South Africa’s winemaking revolution, defining traits of which include: a keen eye for innovation, a love of the land and a drive to find unknown sites and growers, a belief in minimal intervention winemaking techniques and a great sense of community with like-minded individuals {like the Spog wijn crew, including winemakers such as Adi Badenhorst, Tyrrel Myburgh (Joostenberg), Sebastian Beaumont (Beaumont), Miles Mossop and Bevan Newton Johnson (Newton Johnson)}.

The Pack

Of these traits, Adam displays a great aptitude for finding obscure grape growers in faraway corners of the Cape - you’ll see he acknowledges them on the bottle - the result of relationships forged via the grapevine, centered around a love of mysterious varietals and long forgotten old vines. Of old vines, Adam says they just have ‘GEES’ (spirit) and make for interesting winemaking. His only requirement for using these sites being that he like the grower and that they be growing something interesting. Some of his most successful rare locations include places with exotic names, such as Tierhoek, Piekenierskloof, and Vermaaklikheid. Though some are also from well-known areas like Stellenbosch, but hidden, suffering from what winemakers call benign neglect. Sometimes he shares vineyards with other well-known winemakers. Vineyards like La Colline on the slopes of Dassenberg planted to Semillon and farmed by Anton Roux, whose grandfather planted the vines in 1936, though Adam says there may be some ambiguity to that date, as it is thought to be even older given the absence of ledgers. The vineyard of course made famous by the Alheits’ wine of the same name. The range of Raised by Wolves wines has expanded exponentially and now includes 8 wines of which in total he has produced only 2000 cases, making these wines as scarce as hoendertande (chicken teeth), and us, very fortunate to be able to offer you any of it. 

Adam quotes another rule of the wolf: “Lions and tigers are mighty, but you’ll never see a wolf perform in the circus.” He tells me one of his rules was to stop approaching people to sell his wines, but rather wait for them to initiate the discussion. This way, he has come to build a brand true to his sense of experimentation and the people involved. After all, the wine sells itself, it's the law of the jungle. 

Published On: 12/05/2018

Daléne Fourie

Twitter @DaleneFourie

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