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The wines of Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, Tulbagh, South Africa

PO Box 19, Tulbagh 6820, South Africa 
Tel: +27 (023) 231 1118 Fax: +27 (023) 231 1002 
E-mail: info@tmv.co.za Web: www.tmv.co.za

See a more recent report on these wines based on a visit in November 2009

I suspect that Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards (TMV from here on) isn’t a name that many wine lovers outside South Africa will be familiar with, but my prediction is that in a decade it will be on the radar screens of wine lovers worldwide. The wines are fantastic, and this young estate seems to be doing everything right. It’s early days yet, but the quality is there.

TMV began in 1998, when George and Vanessa Austin and Jason and Jennifer Scott enjoyed a memorable holiday in Cape Town. At this time property prices in the area were relatively affordable and these two wine-loving families realized that their long-held dream of starting a premium wine estate was actually achievable. The painstaking search for a suitable property began, and in January 2000 they purchased a farm in Tulbagh and set about the hard work of converting the land to vineyard.

As well as making great wines, TMV have a brilliant website, and the online diary chronicling the birth of TMV and which operated from January 2000 until December 2004 (can be found here), is a web classic. Read this, and you’ll learn a lot; I did. 

George Austin of Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, holding his Theta

The approach here is organic. Indeed, one of the criteria in selecting a site was that it should be suitable for working organically, with low summer rainfall. No fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides or synthetic fungicides are used. Biodynamic techniques are now being applied at TMV, but George Austin says that they are happy to go their own way with this rather than submit to a rigid certification procedure.

There are 16 hectares planted to vines on the property, 4 ha of which were planted in 2000, the rest in 2001. Three varieties are grown: Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (trellised on wires), and Mourvedre (trained on vertical stakes or grown as bush vines). Irrigation is needed because the summers are so dry here, and soil moisture readings are taken so that this can be applied just when the vines really need it. The grapes are harvested by hand.

In keeping with the underlying philosophy of TMV, the term ‘winegrower’ is used in preference to ‘winemaker’. At TMV this title belongs to Chris Mullineux, who followed an accountancy degree at Stellenbosch University with a second one in oenology and viticulture. He’s also had very useful experience working in France (Cote Rotie and Bandol). In the winery the organic approach persists, and only mininal amounts of sulfur dioxide are used, with no acid additions.

I’d recommend looking at their website if you want to know more about how the wines are made at TMV; it gives plenty of detail. In brief, the grapes are brought in, cooled to 5 degrees, crushed and then fermented in small open top fermenters using the native yeasts (no cultured yeast is added). The winery is constructed such that the fermenters are elevated and can be drained directly into the press, with no pumping of wine while it is in contact with skins and seeds: this is important for quality.

I tried five wines. The first three are made using bought in grapes, and thus are not certified organic. They’re pretty good, but it’s the latter two, made from estate fruit, that really got me excited. They’re among South Africa’s very best wines, and are truly world class.

Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Western Cape
Rich, spicy red and black fruits nose. On the palate it’s quite warm and full, with nice ripe fruit and some spicy oak. A lovely vivid new world style that’s in balance. Very good+ 89/100 (£9.99)

Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards ‘Viktoria’ 2004 Western Cape
Open, ripe sweet nose with a distinctive meaty, olive-like note. The palate is rich, concentrated, spicy and open with a nice Rhône-like meaty character under the ripe red berry fruit. It’s delicious. Very good/excellent 90/100 (£15.99)

Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards Swartland Syrah 2004 Swartland
Sweet, open, slight meaty nose which shows perfumed dark fruits. The palate is bright and fruity with a really nice spicy structure and good acidity. A ripe style that shows some meaty fruit but only at a level that adds complexity. Nice freshness here. Very good/excellent 90/100 (£15.99)

Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards Syrah/Mourvèdre 2003
Dark, intense spicy nose. The palate is firm and spicy but with a lovely concentration of fruit. Really nice structure here: savoury and spicy. A much bigger style structurally than the first three wines, with good freshness to the dense fruit. Very good/excellent 93/100 (£17.99)

Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards ‘Theta’ Syrah 2003
Lovely firm, complex nose, showing sweet ripe fruit backed up with some complex spices. Savoury and very refined, with a subtly dusty edge. The palate is complex and structure with great acid and smooth but firm tannic structure and nice acidity. There’s great density and complexity here. Sweet, ripe fruit but in great balance. It’s not cheap, but it’s good value for this sort of quality level. Excellent 95/100 (£28.49)

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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