Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards
Part 1, the Cape winelands revisited

We arrive at Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards on a gorgeous early summer's day. It's a beautifully remote location, fringed by low mountains – in the distance a tiny cataract can be seen cascading from an opening in the rockface. There's a special feel about this place.  


We're greeted by husband and wife team Paul Nichols and Rebecca Tanner, who, interestingly, introduce themselves as ‘winegrowers’. While I've used this term before – it's liked by those who don't agree with the implications of the term 'winemaker' – it's the first time I've heard someone describe themselves this way.

A cow's horn, used for preparing some of the biodynamic treatments

Paul and Rebecca are the third team to be given oversight of this relatively new winery. First it was Chris Mullineux, then Callie Louw. They started in July, when Callie left after his brief tenure, and they tell us that they intend to maintain the current style of the wines.


Rebecca and Paul met in Margaret River, Western Australia, when she was working for Cullen (she cites Vanya Cullen as a big influence on her) and he was up the road at Lenton Brae. Rebecca is actually Australian, while Paul is South African. Paul's focus here is mainly the vineyard, while Rebecca's is mainly the winery, 'but we love to get involved in each other's work,' she says.


TMV is owned by two couples: George and Vanessa Austin, and Jason and Jennifer Scott. [Note added later (July 2011): see the update at the end of this article.] It's a 180 hectare property, with just 16 hectares of estate vines, all run along biodynamic principles. Further grapes are purchased to supplement the estate production. Some of the vines here are grown as low bush vines; others are trellised.

Paul shows me a block that is struggling with an as yet unidentified insect pest: he picks off a few of the small beetles that are busy eating the foliage. He's not tempted to spray with insecticide, though, because the problem is just limited to a small section of the vineyard.

Paul says that one of the reasons he initially left South Africa for Australia is the lack of opportunities in his home country to work with wineries that shared his values. It's only recently that properties such as TMV, with such a terroir-driven approach and farmed using biodynamics, have sprung up on the South African scene. Rebecca says that, 'when I was in Australia, I'd never had a good South African wine,' but she's now delighted to find that there are lots of pockets in South Africa with special terroirs that are beginning to emerge. 'It can only get better,' she says.

The soil here is mostly schist

They're currently practicing biodynamics on the farm, which is certified organic. 'A lot of our work in the vineyard and the winery is dictated by what is going on in the stars,' says Rebecca. They buy in white grapes and also the grapes for the Swartland Syrah, but these are not organic/biodynamic. Now that the estate vines are getting older, they are trying to focus more on these wines, and are currently getting 45 tons off the property each vintage. The youngest vines are used to produce the Raptor Post wine, which is an entry level label of 15 000 bottles, using estate fruit only.


Both Paul and Rebecca are currently doing a four-year postgraduate course on sustainable development. They describe the course, offered by the University of Stellenbosch, as 'amazing'. It's part time; basically they use their holidays and weekends to study.

TMV White 2008
A blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier. Lovely fresh bright minerally nose is quite lemony. The palate is delicate but very fruity and expressive, with lovely purity and freshness. Quite complex with a hint of nuttiness to the lemony fruit. 92/100

TMV White 2007
Clairette, Chenin Blanc and Roussanne. Smooth mineral nose is lively with a hint of matchstick. The palate is bright, lively and minerally with lovely fruit flavours. Expressive. 91/100

The Raptor Post 2007
A blend of Cabernet and Syrah; organic. Lovely focused blackcurrant and blackberry fruit with hints of cured meat. The palate is fresh and fruity with a nice meaty savoury dimension. Finishes dry. 90/100

TMV Swartland Syrah 2007
Aromatic, meaty and perfumed with lush liqueur-like richness. Rich yet fresh palate has lovely sweet fruit purity and savoury, meaty notes. A lovely elegant expressive wine. 93/100

TMV Syrah Mourvèdre 2005
Perfumed, intense, savoury and meaty yet with sweet berry and plum fruit, as well as some floral notes. The palate is smooth and elegant with a pronounced spiciness under the ripe fruit. Finishes savoury. Complex and brooding with real personality. 94/100

TMV Theta Syrah 2006
Dark, brooding nose. It's fresh, intense and savoury, with spicy tight-wound red and black fruits. The palate has firm structure, with bold but fine-grained tannins backing up the still-elegant, fresh fruit. This has real potential for future development. 94/100

TMV Vin Pi
This is a sweet wine made in a solera system, and as such it is a blend of six or seven vintages. It's made from Chenin Blanc that has been air dried for a couple of weeks. Deep orange/gold colour. Complex lime, marmalade and apricot nose leads to a viscous palate that's sweet and intense with nice acidity. 93/100

A short film of the visit:

Update: Since this visit, TMV has changed ownership. It was bought by an American group, headed by Charles Banks, who was for a few years the owner of Screaming Eagle. It is now called Fable Wines (www.fablewines.com), and they've been dropped by their UK distributor Richards Walford because of their ambitious pricing strategy. 

Part 1, Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards
Part 2, Cape Point Vineyards
Part 3, AA Badenhorst Family Wines
Part 4, Eben Sadie: Sadie Family Wines and Sequillo Cellars
Part 5, Paul Kretzel of Lammershoek
Part 6, Mullineux Family Wines
Part 7, Vondeling
Part 8, Scali
Part 9, Sterhuis
Part 10, Raats
Part 11, Migliarina
Part 12, Charles Back and Fairview
Part 13, Hermit on the Hill
Part 14, Klein Constantia
Part 15, Iona, Elgin
Part 16, Paul Cluver, Elgin
Part 17, Eagles' Nest, Constantia
Part 18, Anthonij Rupert
Part 19, Oak Valley, Elgin
Part 20, Shannon, Elgin

See also:
Visiting South Africa's wine lands (a series based on a trip in December 2005)

Wines tasted 11/09  
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