Craig Hawkins is located in South Africa’s most thrilling wine region: Swartland. Here he has planted a small vineyard with his wife on schist in the area’s northern-most mountains. In addition to traditional varieties like Grenache, he is pioneering Maccabeu and Vermentino. He also sources grapes from the legendary Observatory Vineyard and Lammershoek Vineyard. He farms using a handful of Biodynamic practices but is not actively seeking certification. Strong arguments are made for dry farming, stating that appropriate varieties and biotypes can survive and thrive in Swartland without irrigation.
Before starting his own project, Craig worked with Eben Sadie, Dirk Niepoort, and (perhaps most influential on his style) at Domaine Matassa. He began Testalonga in 2008 while making wine for Lammershoek.
Like ourselves, Craig tends not to like wines with high alcohol levels. To avoid this trait, he harvests his grapes quite early which brings the added benefit of elevated acidity. He also believes strongly in using the skins of white grapes during fermentation. They contain vital yeasts, nutrients, flavors, and structural components. His ultimate goal is to get Drinkability and Compexity into the same bottle.
Recently, Craig collaborated with fellow South African winemakers (Eben Sadie, Chris & Andrea Mullineux, Jurgen Gouws, Callie Louw and Adi Badenhorst) to get skin fermented whites and other non-traditional wine styles recognized by the government. Before the actions of these influential winemakers, their wonderful wines were not deemed appropriate for export.
The grapes for this wine come from old Chenin Blanc bushvines planted on decomposed granite. The vineyard is South-West facing at 300m above sea level. Both these factors contribute to the wines inherent freshness. The grapes were fermented as whole berries (30% whole cluster, 70% destemmed) with wild yeasts and no temperature control. The wine was left on the skins for four weeks before being pressed into old 500l French oak barrels. The wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered with a total sulphur count of 26ppm. 11.79% ABV (0.96 g/l VA)
While making wine for Dirk Niepoort’s project in Austria, Craig fell in love with Harslevelu, made just east of them in Hungary. Ironically, in the vineyard next to where he sources the fruit for Cortez and Sweet Cheeks, he found a 0.5ha plot of the grape planted back in 1981. The grapes are whole-cluster pressed into neutral barrel for 10 months before bottling. ABV 11.5%
This dry farmed vineyard was planted in 1972 on quartz and silica laden soils. Since 2001 it has been farmed organically which was an extreme rarity at that point. Whole clusters are pressed into a combination of neutral puncheon and stainless steel. After six months, the two components are blended and put back into stainless steel and puncheon. ABV 12.43%, TA 5.67, RS 1.63, pH 3.42
2017 FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS
This organic bushvine vineyard was planted in 2001 on North facing decomposed granite at 220m above sea level. Leaves are left on in the fruiting zone to protect the Carignan from sunburn. Whole bunches of large, juicy berries are lightly crushed and fermented on the skins for a little over a week. The wine is then pressed off into a 3500l foudre. As always, the wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal Sulphur.
2017 KEEP ON PUNCHING
The grapes for this cuvée come from an organically farmed vineyard planted in 1972. The north facing slope is littered with decomposed granite, 220m above sea level. Clusters here are particularly small and are crammed with natural acidity. The grapes are whole-cluster pressed directly into stainless steel and neutral puncheon. The wine is neither fined, nor filtered before bottling. ABV 12.01%, TA 6.5, RS 2.26, pH 3.29
2017 STAY BRAVE
This vineyard was planted in 1981 but abandoned in 2014. Craig tried to revive it in 2016 but it yielded no grapes. 2017 saw tremendous improvement and the 1.5ha of bush-vines yielded well. The grapes were destemmed and fermented in 1500L open top tanks. After 11 days on skins the wine is pressed off into a 3300L foudre for élevage. ABV 9.88%, TA 6.5, RS 1.42, pH 3.7
2017 QUEEN OF SPADES
This small plot of Trincadeira (Tinta Amarela) was planted in 1999 on decomposed granite. The insanely small number of grapes harvested saw only 6 days on skins during whole-cluster fermentation before being pressed off into neutral barrel. The goal was minimal extraction since the skins yield high tannins and tons of color. The wine is unfined, unfiltered, and sees only minimal Sulphur before bottling. ABV 11%
2017 THE DARK SIDE
Craig gets his Syrah from a 0.75ha vineyard planted in 2001. The higher proportion of clay in the soils here help with dry farming, and they intentionally leave lots of leaves and shoots on the vines to keep ripeness in check. Whole-clusters were fermented in open top tank for 10 days before being pressed off into neutral puncheons. A small amount of SO2 was added a month before bottling. ABV 11.91%, TA 4.51, pH 3.73.
2017 MONKEY GONE TO HEAVEN
This vineyard was planted in 2001 and features dry farmed, bush vines and the typical decomposed granite soils of Swartland. Whole-clusters were fermented in tank for 10 days before being pressed onto into neutral puncheons. The wine is unfined, unfiltered, and sees only minimal Sulphur before bottling. ABV 12.4%
2017 SWEET CHEEKS
This small vineyard of Hanepoot (Muscat d’Alexandria) was planted in 1970 next to the site Craig gets the Chenin for Cortez from. They traditionally treat these as table grapes, but Craig wanted to try to make something more serious by fermenting on the skins. After 11 days on the skins the wine is pressed off into neutral barrel for élevage. ABV 10%