Mullineux Wines of the Swartland: It’s All About the Soils

Chris & Andrea Mullineux

Andrea and Chris Mullineux met in the vineyards of France where UC Davis grad Andrea and Stellenbosch grad Chris were doing post-graduation internships. They married, moved to the Swartland, and in 2007 established their highly successful winery. They consistently receive top national and international awards for their wines and winemaking.  We’ve followed their growing success for several years with repeated tastings of their wines. This year we returned to their 107 hectare wine farm, Roundstone, which they purchased in 2014, to taste the current releases and to discuss with Chris how the diverse soils of the Swartland influence the grapes they use to make their outstanding wines.  Our reviews follow.

Ripping Before Planting

Andrea and Chris continue to expand their plantings at Roundstone with the assistance of South Africa’s top viticulturist, Rosa Kruger, whom we profiled in an earlier YouTube video. Of special note is their experimental plantings of new grape varieties like Viura, Verdelho, Vermentino and Assyrtiko in anticipation of warmer days ahead and the need for grape varieties that retain acidity well.

Soils of the Swartland

Andrea and Chris established their 22 hectare vineyard and winery on the slopes of the Kasteelberg mountain just outside charming Riebeek Kasteel, one of South Africa’s oldest towns. Kasteelberg is a large solitary rock of Table Mountain sandstone above schist and quartz foothills rising to 946 meters elevation and located about 75 km northeast of Cape Town.  They also source fruit, about half the total, from vineyards elsewhere in the Swartland, especially the Paardeberg and Malmesbury areas.  Located southwest of the Kasteelberg, the vineyards of the Paardeberg are relatively high, up to 700m above sea level, planted on deep soils of decomposed granite.

The diverse soils of the Swartland provide Andrea and Chris with the opportunity to explore how soils and other site-specific aspects of terroir affect the qualities of the grapes, mostly Chenin Blanc and Syrah, they use for their wines. While their entry level Chenin Blanc and Syrah wines are blends of vineyards and soils and reflect the terroir of Swartland as a whole, their high-end wines are sourced from selected vineyard parcels where particular soils predominate.  Holding constant winemaking methods allows these different terroirs and soils to express themselves.

Kasteelberg’s vineyards are planted on sloping foothills with 1-1.5 meters of schist derived top soils over a layer of very deep, hard slate. Combined with strong winds, the shallow soils tend to produce smaller berries with thicker skins.  As a result, the Syrah from this site is darker and more structured. They also source Chenin Blanc from a special site on their estate where white quartz reflects the sun and heat, producing especially rich, golden fruit.

The Roundstone Vineyard

On the Paardeberg, they find more fertile and deep (2-2.5 meters),  granite based, sandy soils that produce huge root systems and larger canopies and leaves that shade the fruit and produce bigger berries with thinner skins. The sandy soils can contribute a flinty saline note to the wines; they also give good acidity, so in hot vintages their blended wines may include more Paardeberg and less Kasteelberg fruit.

US Importer: Skurnik Wines

White Wines

Mullineux 2019 Kloof Street Old Vine Chenin Blanc Swartland ($19) 89  A blend of different vineyards, the Kloof Street Chenin Blanc is a good quality wine that reflects the Swartland as a whole, rather than any one particular terroir. Made to be drunk young, it’s very fresh with notes of pear, melon, and cling peach with a hint of ginger spice, finishing with a light saline note. Fermented 70% in steel and 30% in old barrels.  About 8 thousand cases made. Outstanding value!

Mullineux 2018 Old Vines White Swartland ($33) 94  This Chenin Blanc led blend is sourced from vines up to 68 years old in diverse vineyards, mostly in the Paardeberg. It offers a lovely bouquet with light floral scents joined by notes of spice, citrus and cling peach. It’s full on the palate and firmly textured with bright acidity. Fermented with ambient yeasts in large format (500L) French barrels, 20% new, where they are matured for 11 months. In addition to Chenin, this wine includes smaller portions of Clairette Blanche, Grenache Blanc, Semillon Gris, and Viognier.

Mullineux 2018 Granite Chenin Swartland ($80) 96  More emphatic on the nose than the Old Vines White, the 2018 Granite Chenin offers yellow stone fruit, herbs and a hint of white pepper. Very firm and dense on the palate, focused and mineral like with a chalky aspect and revealing energetic acidity. The deep granitic soils of the Paardeberg produce a large canopy that shades the fruit resulting in flinty aromatics and less overt ripe fruit. Sourced from two parcels of dry farmed, 40 year old bush vines planted in the deep decomposed granite soils of the Paardeberg.

Mullineux 2018 Quartz Chenin Swartland ($80) 93  Grown in a single vineyard parcel (Leliefontein) of deep clay with heat reflecting, white quartz rocks that produce intensely flavored, golden berries. The result is a Chenin Blanc with ripe yellow stone fruit and honeysuckle aromatics and a softer, broader palate. It’s an elegant wine with lingering florality on the finish. Made from a single parcel of 35 year old Chenin Blanc planted in a quartz kloof on the Kasteelberg.

Mullineux 2018 Straw Wine Swartland ($45) 97  Made from dried Chenin Blanc grapes harvested at normal ripeness levels, the 2018 Straw Wine is the best I’ve tasted. The bouquet is mind-blowing with a complex intermingling of dried and fresh yellow stone fruit complemented by wild honey and a hint of almond paste. The palate mirrors the bouquet showing an intense freshness and the addition of spicy peach marmalade. Sourced from the same vineyard as the Granite Chenin Blanc, air dried for 3-4 weeks to concentrate sugars and acidity, then fermented in old French barriques with ambient yeasts for up to 12 months. The intense sweet richness (303 g/L) of the wine is balanced by equally high acidity (11 g/L) resulting a superbly balanced, silk textured wine that finishes almost dry.

Red Wines

Mullineux 2018 Kloof Street Swartland Rouge ($19) 90 Inspired by Côte du Rhône, this Swartland red blend reveals a lovely mulberry and red plum spice aromas and flavors.  If offers good concentration of flavors, round tannins and an inviting finish.  A Syrah based blend of Carignan, Grenache, Cinsault, and, now, Tinta Barocca from the Paardeberg. Fermented 20% whole cluster. Outstanding value!

Mullineux 2017 Syrah Swartland ($39) 93  Mullineux’s regular Syrah bottling is a blend of seven different vineyards with the main source of fruit being their Roundstone estate.  It offers fresh fruit aromas with floral hints of blue flowers. The palate is rich without being sweet with blackberry and dark plum fruit complemented by hints of peppery spice and brighter dark red fruit.  The structure is firm with good focus and balance and well-knit tannins. Sourced from vineyards with diverse soils of shale, schist and granite and fermented 50% whole cluster with ambient yeast and matured in oak of a variety of barrel formats, about 10% new.

Mullineux 2017 Granite Syrah Swartland ($120) 95   Sourced from the deep, sandy granite-derived soils of a single Paardeberg vineyard, the Granite Syrah evokes flowers and fresh red and black fruit on the nose. It’s a fresh, vibrant wine that’s broad on the palate with a velvety texture and firm, round tannins. It has a real sense of elegance with lovely rich extract on a lingering, fresh finish.  From a single parcel of 19 year old, dry farmed bush vines grown in the decomposed granite of the Paardeberg.

Mullineux 2017 Schist Syrah Roundstone Swartland ($120) 96    Sourced from the stony shale and schist soils of the Roundstone estate on the Kasteelberg, the Schist Syrah from the cooler 2017 vintage is reminiscent of a Northern Rhone with its nose that recalls savory black fruit and slate like minerals. It’s youthful, dense and firmly structured with dark fruit, black olives and zesty mineral and pepper notes on the palate. A gorgeous wine that can easily be cellared for a few years.

 

 

 

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