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The Tale of the Animal Farm and the Vines

“Between pigs and human beings there was not and there need not be any clash of interest whatsoever.”  ― George Orwell, Animal Farm

The Tale of the Animal Farm and the Vines

Far from Orwell’s Animal Farm, against the slopes of the Witzenberg Mountain range, a community of farm animals resided, peacefully. A herd of Nguni cattle, their oversized horns sometimes incongruous on their comparably tiny heads. A flock of Merino sheep, cheerfully dumb. And a drove of intellectual pigs, who ran the show in a decidedly abrupt manner. Up until the millennium, the arrival of which only the pigs were really aware, they had been happily residing on a wheat farm, their contributions merely a side concern.

180 Hectare Virgin Ground

In January of that fateful year, two human families descended onto their 180 hectares of virgin land, as cordoned off by the pigs. They were Brits by the looks of them, the Scott and Austin families, as identified by the tags on their bags. But they were not to farm wheat. They brought vines and planted them high up, between the 400m and 500m mark. The pigs grumbled approvingly amongst themselves, grapes would be a welcome addition to their diet. The sheep preferred wheat. In fact, the pigs had been toying with the idea themselves for years. The site the humans had selected was significantly cooler than the valley floor, and the steep mountain slopes offered shade to the vineyards into the late morning, with the constant breeze ensuring a healthy canopy. The soils were made up of shale and saprolite, providing excellent drainage and imbuing the resulting wines with a great sense of minerality. The predominantly west facing slopes enjoyed the benefit of the gentle late afternoon sun and all-in-all provided the perfect terroir for what was to become Fable Mountain Vineyards.

The Grapes

After great deliberation, the humans seemed to settle on Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon for their initial planting. The pigs preferred the Mourvèdre as a mid-morning snack, though they had to be smart about it, given that the majority of the vines were Cab and Syrah; they didn’t want to deplete their stocks too obviously. When the humans started construction on the cellar in February of 2002, the pigs started having visions of late-night wine tasting opportunities. They never feared their humans though. These humans were all about biodynamic principles and organic practices (though not certified in either, their ways were informed by it and they strove toward equilibrium), a phrase the pigs, in a late night meeting had painstakingly taught their disinterested fellow, four-legged companions as a phrase not to be scoffed at. Very much comparable to a democratic society as far as the fate of regular farm animals go. They would recite it, like a pledge of allegiance, steadfast in their knowledge that their very presence was required, nay, desired.

The Pledge

“We, the four-legged beings of Fable Mountain Vineyards, believe in the principles of biodynamics. We pledge to contribute in any way deemed necessary toward the wellbeing of our vines. Through our peaceful cohabitation we will strive to cultivate the very best expression of Tulbagh vines and by extension wines. We commit ourselves to the cause, as bound by these, our principles.” The sheep struggled with memorizing all of that, but in the end they persevered.

The Winemaker Humans

The English started looking for other humans to make the wine and even the pigs knew they’d done a good job, when Chris Mullineux made his first appearance on the farm in May 2002. His American assistant, Andrea, (the Nguni kept speculating that they might be MORE than just friends) quickly joined him there. Chris had a resolve that emanated from him, the sheep overheard him saying that he was a winegrower rather than a winemaker. The female human, Andrea, also looked like she knew what she was doing, from their limited understanding of the requirements. From there Fable Mountain enjoyed a line-up of confident, passionate winemaker humans. Chris and Andrea eventually left to start their own, highly acclaimed Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines. (The Chickens overheard the humans talking, who then told the Sheep, who then told the Nguni, who muttered it to the Pigs.) Callie Louw followed, he was a self-proclaimed farmer and the animals adored him. He was an animal human, and filled the Mullineux’s shoes naturally. But Callie was also fated to leave and start his own concern. Through the farm-animal-grapevine, the sheep heard he had setup a farm on the rocky slopes of the Swartland and named it Porseleinberg, the pigs deliberated long into the night on how they would procure just a mere sample of THAT wine. From there another male and female human team, Paul Nicholls and Rebecca Tanner arrived. Stellar winemakers all, while today a Mr. Tremayne Smith guards the vines.

Tremayne Smith

The animals were always going to like him, coming as he was from Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines, having been an Assistant Winemaker there since 2012. There was talk amongst the animals that he had spent a harvest at De Trafford and then moved to David Trafford’s Sijnn Wines in Malgas as well. Tremayne’s arrival at Fable Mountain Vineyards in September of 2016 heralded a new beginning, a new style of winemaking. He decided to let the mountain do the talking, by using less oak and making fresher style wines so fellow humans (and the odd, crafty pig) could taste the unique character of the terroir. He also identified various different pockets of land, well-suited to the wiles of specific varietals and started producing more single-varietal batches, to give expression to the different aspects of the mountain. The pigs approve. Today, the animals and humans alike are proud to be making their Jackal BirdNight Sky and Syrah wines, more recently having introduced their Raptor Post range. Another Brit human, by the name of Atkin having taken a particular liking to the Jackal Bird…

The Moral of the Story

Based on the merits of this fable, we’d conclude the moral to be two-fold. 1. The advantages of biodynamic principles (even if only loosely applied) as undertaken by the humans and animals of Fable Mountain Vineyards, far outweigh the strains of it. 2. Greatness in winemakers fosters greatness in their successors, spurring them on to find their own voice from generation to generation.

Published On: 01/10/2018

Daléne Fourie

Twitter @DaleneFourie

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