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Take a closer look at Craig Hawkins, wine producer of Testalonga, South Africa!

Craig Hawkins in Swartland!

Craig Hawkins is a maverick.  After travelling extensively in Portugal and Austria learning his craft he returned to South Afica and became the wine maker at top Swartland estate Lammershoek.  He has been one of the leading lights in the natural wine movement in the country and his watchword is always 'experimentation'.  His travels opened his eyes to the world of natural wine making as he discovered 'real' wines that he loved to drink and that had a purity he hadn't encountered in conventional wine making.  Travelling in Friuli, Italy, he discovered white wines made with skin contact (often called orange wine) and liked them a lot.  His first influence was his brother Neil but Tom Lubbe (Domain Matassa, Roussillon), Remy Pedreino (Roc d'Anglade, Languedoc) and Dirk Niepoort (Port!) really opened his eyes to the importance of acidity in wines from a warm climate.  But it was travelling to the Loire and his first real encounter with 'natural' wines specifically from Domaine des Bois Lucas that changed his idea about wine completely.  'They had that certain something I was searching for!'

Craig now makes his own wines from various small, organic vineyard sites in Swartland and he makes his wine naturally, with as little intervention as possible.  When making wine this way, Craig says 'you have to to trust your senses and gut feeling, when those around you doubt, after you overcome that, the rest is easy'.  Although he aims to make wines with no sulphur, again he trusts his instincts and observations and is not dogmatic.  'You cannot just not add sulphur because you want to, the wine/vineyard will tell you when it’s ready for no sulphur. Generally if my pH’s are very low and stay low over time (thus stable) I know the vineyard can handle low sulphur. Sulphur is not your enemy, but it should not be used at every step in winemaking just so you can sleep better at night. Sulphur I feel is often over used and used to cover mistakes. And to work completely free or with minimal sulphur you have to farm the grapes yourselves so you can control what is going on in the vineyard and ultimately in your wine.'

Craig makes 4 different Cuvee, two from Chenin Blanc, Cortez and Skin Contact, King of Grapes from Grenache and Sweet Cheeks, a delicious and fascinating example of skin macerated Muscat.  There is never great quantities of any of the wines.  For me the wines all have a lovely natural vivacity and freshness more akin to an old world wine than a warm climate New World wine.  They are also low in Alcohol, the 2013 Grenache coming in at 11.5% abv but tastes ripe and fruity.  The Chenins are 12% but they have immense concentration and savoury undertones from the skin contact.  These are truly expressive and delicious wines which will keep you thinking with every bottle.

And in terms of food, well Craig reckons, 'foods with an oily texture – certain fish, duck or even tartar do well. But sometimes a simple salad with a good vinaigrette is great too.'  Sounds good to me, where is my corkscrew?


See his wines on-line at Buon Vino