Adi Badenhorst is a fun-loving, mutton chop–sideburned, pony-tailed cowboy with a hipster vibe, barrel chest and a constant, infectious laugh. If anyone embodies the free-wheeling spirit of the Swartland, it's Badenhorst.
On the reception deck at the back of A.A. Badenhorst Family, he was waiting for a truck of grapes to come in. "We picked Palomino, Verdelho and some Muscadelle today," he said.
"Muscadelle?" I ask. "Well, it's there," he said with a shrug.
When I last connected with Adi, he was head winemaker at Rustenberg. Since then, he's struck out on his own. Now, the 40-year-old has his family and farm, Kalmoesfontein, which he bought in 2007. An old winery dating back to the 1930s, the cement vats are still in place, but the walls are a bit cracked. An aluminum splashguard covers one patch behind a row of tanks.
"Yeah, nothing especially aesthetic there," he said. "Just trying to keep the wall out of the vat. Our story here is decidedly half-assed. Not fancy like those Mullineuxs! [They are close friends.] We don't have the budget. Every sport has its injuries, you know?"
The estate totals 148 acres, with 60 under vine. That accounts for 80 percent of the production, though Badenhorst also pulls in some leased and purchased fruit, and he now makes nearly 10,000 cases annually, with one-third going to the U.S.
For the whites, Badenhorst picks his mélange of grapes and throws them into foudres, early-ripening varieties first and then on through the harvest filling up foudres and cofermenting batches. He then eventually blends them for the Badenhorst Family white. From one foudre, a blend of 2012 Palomino, Chardonnay, Colombard and Chenin Blanc shows chalk, green apple peel and lime notes—the bones of the wine. The second cask blends Roussanne and Marsanne and delivers peach pit, almond and nectarine notes with a fat, almost oily edge. The third cask combines Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Viognier—the "middle of the blend," said Adi, and it provides ripe white peach, brioche and jicama notes. The 2010 Coastal Region White pulls all the components together, resulting in a rich, yet fresh wine that delivers citrus oil, peach, brioche and almond notes and excellent length on the finish.
The portfolio here is eclectic, including the 2012 The Curator Swartland White, a blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Sémillon which has tasty nectarine, peach, green almond and citrus oil notes, but stays fresh through the finish. Set to retail at $10, it overdelivers by a wide margin. The NV Funky White Western Cape is aimed at Sherry lovers, made from a solera blend of Palomino, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and others, with lightly oxidized walnut, dried lemon rind, sour dough and bitter orange notes that have mouthwatering cut through the finish. Break out the salted almond and jamón de Iberico (or biltong, this is South Africa after all). The current release's blend represents six vintages and it's slated to be priced at $18 per 375ml bottle when it gets to the U.S.
The backbone of the production here is the 2011 Secateurs Coastal Region, a blend of Shiraz, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignane, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage. It has lots of friendly red cherry, red licorice, damson plum and bay leaf notes with a taut yet fresh, accessible finish.
Like Chris Mullineux, Badenhorst is also one who has been saving some old-vine vineyards when he finds them, including the parcel that goes into his 2011 Grenache Swartland Ch. Raaigras, which comes from the oldest vines on the farm, planted in the 1940s, making them arguably the oldest Grenache vines on the Cape (see the accompanying video for more on this particular parcel).
"When you farm old vines like this, you have to treat each one as an individual," he said. "It's microfarming. And of course, it's insane."
Fermented in cement vat with stems and then aged in foudre for 18 months, the wine sports brawny leather, cherry, red currant and singed iron notes, but with fine minerality. It's on the gamey side, but lab tests show no brettanomyces, according to Badenhorst, and the wine actually gets purer as it airs in the glass, a good sign. There's a brick dust edge too, reminiscent of Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneufs. Bottled only in magnum, there are just 300 of them.
"Wait, 299," said Badenhorst, laughing, as we sampled the wine. "And after this weekend, probably just 296."
The 2010 Swartland is what Badenhorst refers to as the family red. A blend of Shiraz, Grenache, Cinsault and Tinta Barocca, it shows chocolate, briar, black cherry skin, steeped plum and charcoal notes but stays fresh and stylish overall. While Badenhorst has a larger-than-life personality, his wines are more minerally and elegant than you might expect. It's a conscious decision on his part not to aim for too much power in the wines, which requires some earlier picking and deft winemaking when dealing with the warmth and dryness in the Swartland.
"We don't do a lot of pump overs or pigéage," said Badenhorst. "We just let the malo go through, leave it on its skins for the sappy grip, but not extracted feel, and basically try to leave it alone."