Mullineux: South Africa ‘needs more wine ambassadors’

Chris Mullineux of Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines in the Swartland has said that he believes South Africa needs to focus more on its premium wine exports which can be championed by “wine ambassadors”.


Chris Mullineux © MLF Wines

Speaking to the drinks business Hong Kong while on a short trip to Hong Kong and Macau, the charismatic owner and winemaker, Chris Mullineux said that Asia was a “ripe market” for South African wines with increasing knowledge among its wine consumers, though a certain amount of confusion still prevailed when it came to wine labels.

“Take our Mullineux White Blend,” he said, brandishing a bottle of the 2014 vintage made from 73% Old Vine Chenin Blanc, 13% Clairette Blanche and the rest Viognier and Semillon Gris.

“Because the grapes aren’t mentioned on the label, I’ve noticed some consumers will think that it’s not very good and that we just use any combinations of any old white grapes just lying around when actually, our lovely White Blend is made from 35 year old Chenin Blanc vines grown in the best soils of the Kasteelburg, 40-70 year old bush vine Chenin, 80 year old Clairette Blanche, 55 year old Heritage Semillon Gris and 16 year old Viognier! We need to change the perception that blends can be just as good as single varietals – and in fact, better – because we can choose the right blend of grapes to suit the climate and conditions of that year.”

Semi rant over, Mullineux went on to say that blends are “iconic” in South Africa and that winemakers are becoming more and more adventurous when it comes to choosing potential vineyard sites.

“If a place seems interesting and viable, we’ll look at it! The Mediterranean grape, Clairette Blanche is most commonly used for sparkling in South Africa, but it loves the decomposed granite soils in the Paardeberg and adds a lovely backbone of acidity and freshness to any still wine.”

Mullineux and his wife Andrea established Mullineux Family Wines in 2007 alongside business partners Kieth Prothero and Peter Dart. In 2013, they were joined by Analjit Singh who bought Prothero’s share, and then renamed the company Mullineux & Leeu (Leeu meaning lion in Afrikaans and is the Sanskrit derivation of Singh).

The Mullineux vineyards nestle in the heart of the Swartland, dotted around the Kasteelburg, the Paardeburg and the rolling hills of Malmesbury where old vines relish in the granite, shale and schist soils.

“We take an absolute minimalist approach to winemaking,” said Mullineux. “Apart from tiny amounts of sulphur, nothing is added or removed from our wines. No fining, no filtering, no use of yeast or enzymes. We want to let the old vines get on with their job of making beautiful wine.”

Mullineux Single Terroir range encompasses its Schist Syrah, grown on a single parcel of 18 year old vines planted in the stony shale and schist soils of Roundstone Farm on the Kasteelburg, as well as Granite Syrah and Iron Syrah, all taking their names from the distinctive soil types in which the vines are grown.

“Our Schist Syrah is the most structured in our Single Terroir range,” said Mullineux. “But Syrah is so at home in the Swartland, there’s a focus on finesse and freshness which is the best expression of the terroir.”

“I realise South African wine probably needs a bit of explaining because I think people don’t necessarily realise the effort we go to in order to make high quality wine, especially as South Africa is still known for producing very cheap bulk wine sadly, though this is beginning to change.

“South Africa definitely needs more wine ambassadors to champion our beautiful wines and encourage people to visit and see for themselves what we’re all about.”

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