Ruling with an Iron Schist:
A chat with the Andrea Mullineux; the reluctant but undeniable queen of SA wine
(originally published in 2016)
(Originally published in 2017)
If the wine biz were showbiz, Andrea and Chris Mullineux would be Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Only a touch more classic. Sonny and Cher, perhaps.
Between the two of them, they have made wines on three different continents for some of the finest producers in the world. Whether Napa, Languedoc, Roussillon, Chateauneuf, Stellenbosch, or most recently, the Swartland and Franschhoek, Andrea and Chris have represented some of the most exciting movements in winemaking. Mullineux & Leeu Family wines, with its HQ on Roundstone Farm near Riebeek Kasteel has been named Platter’s Winery of the year twice, is an integral founding element of the Swartland Independent Producers, and just happens to have produced a Platter’s Red Wine of the Year (2016), and Platter’s Dessert wine of the Year (2017).
For international readers who may have no idea what a Platter’s Wine Guide award is, it’s sort of like an Oscar award for South African wines (voted by an academy or panel), rather than a Teen Choice Award-vibe (achieved through populist vote). So, a serious award. Like Tori-Amos-meets-Sinead-O’Connor serious.
Where were we?
Ah, yes! The Mullineuxs and their awards.
So local awards are great and all, but it was a rare a highpoint for South African wine when Andrea was named “WINE ENTHUSIAST’S WORLD WINEMAKER OF THE YEAR” for 2016. Now, I know that using a shouty BOLD ALL-CAPS typeface is considered rude, but (core blimey) if you can’t use it in the event of a global accolade, then where can you use it?
It’s not as if she just won second place at Miss BarleyCorn beauty pageant. The Wine Enthusiast’s World Winemaker award is (as the name suggests) a planet-wide plaudit that could go to literally any one of the tens of thousands of winemakers the world over. What’s more, it is awarded to a winemaker “with groundbreaking vision”; a game changer; someone who has seen further than their peers.
Odin, rather than Loki.
All kneel before Zod!
So when interviewing this viniferic deity, I had hoped for some spicy ego; an element of shock rock…perhaps even a Yeezy-esque fiery third person declaration of grandeur.
Boy, I was I disappointed.
What I experienced instead was (if I’m not mistaken they call them “virtues”) humility, measured responses, a well-defined sense of place and context, and grounded grasp of where Andrea fits in the bigger scheme of things. Sure, it’s a letdown if you’re hoping for headlines & scandal, but if you’re looking to discover the sort of temperament it takes to produce wines that are taking the world by storm, then her thoughts and musings become a treasure trove for anyone with a respect for the earth, its fruit…and jolly stonking decent grog.
HDS: The Wine Enthusiast’s award is for your “groundbreaking vision in winemaking”. If you’ve seen further than your peers, what do you think has been your most meaningful discovery? What have you seen that you’re burning to share with/teach others?
ANDREA: In my opinion I have not seen further, but perhaps I set my mind to a task, put on blinders to naysayers, and have gone for it. My biggest strength is attention to detail in the winery, and the only advice I can share is that it is all the little things that add up, so pay attention to every step along the way.
HDS: Adi Badenhorst says that “[Andrea] knows exactly what she want in a wine, and the level of fruit it takes to produce that.” Then elsewhere, you also talk about making “honest” wines.
Is there not a contradiction between having a strong idea of what you want, and allowing the wine to be an honest expression of its terroir? Where is the line between the honesty of fruit & terroir and your personal desire in your winemaking? Do you actively remove your own preferences in order to express the terroir? Or do you allow your “desire for a result” to influence what you do in the cellar? And does that diminish the notion of an “honest wine”?
ANDREA: I like to say I am the custodian of the wines and that I guide them through life, without forcing them to be something that they don’t want to be. Sometimes I step in a little more and am proactive if I foresee a problem. It is that act of knowing how much of my hand the vintage might need that I think is a strength in making honest wines.
Obviously I have a preference in what kind of expression I like in a wine, but we chose vineyards that NATURALLY exhibit those qualities, rather than having to force it [in the cellar].
HDS: What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the SA wine industry on an international stage?
ANDREA: Even though the South African wine industry has been around for several hundred years, it has still only been on the modern international scene for a couple of decades. The quality wines are getting better and better, but it is up to South Africa to create the exposure for the wines. We must not sit back and wait for people to discover us!
HDS: What excites you most about South African Wine, and what is your hope for its future?
ANDREA: The exponential increase in overall wine quality is the most exciting thing. It means that South African wines are right up there with the best of the world and it is only a matter of time before more people see that internationally.
HDS: You have some of South Africa’s most exciting winemakers as your friends and neighbours… What are some of the most valuable lessons you have learnt from peers like Adi Badenhorst? Eben Sadie? and Callie Louw?
ANDREA: A rising tide lifts all boats. We are all very close friends and share a lot as winemakers, so we realise that when one of us does well, it uplifts everyone.
HDS: In your winemaking (or life in general), when you hit a moment of self-doubt, or an emotional low, what are the fears that come to the fore in those times?
ANDREA: Everyone wants to succeed in life, but we need to make sure that all the time, effort, blood, sweat and tears are worth it. We all have to make sacrifices, but we must never regret the way we have lived our lives.
HDS: Who are the people who inspire you to climb out of those moments? How do they achieve this?
ANDREA: Chris, my husband and business partner is always there for me emotionally. He is my rock and will always brighten my day.
HDS: Your tip for an up-and-coming winemaker for us to look out for?
ANDREA: My ex-assistant winemaker, Tremayne Smith, is making some awesome wines of his own now, and he really lets his own personal style shine through; both in the wine and the packaging, which is great.
HDS: Okay, oaky. It’s all good and well to talk about wine until the cows come home, but how much do you really know about someone until you have watched them walk unflinchingly away from a cinematic explosion, while some bad-ass tunes play in the background? Nothing, right? So, for the sake of the exercise, we will just have to imagine you walking in slow motion with flames in the background, but I would need you to pick a song for us to play while we do so. What is your bad-ass-explosion-theme-tune?
ANDREA: Without a doubt, Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion”.
TMITB: A veritably royal choice, M’Lady. Let’s see how that works out!