There are many terms (such as “Rock stars/Young Guns”) for the (mainly) young vinous entrepreneurs who seek out unique sites from which to craft their singular and often striking wines. Theirs is largely a post-2000 phenomenon — though the founder of the concept in SA was Neil Ellis, who started out doing exactly this 40 years ago.

The opportunity emerged from the collapse of the co-operatives: as they converted into companies they were no longer obliged to take in all the fruit grown by their members, and their former members were no longer obliged to deliver all their grapes to the co-op’s cellars. This freed up unusual and often extraordinary blocks for winemakers starting out without the luxury (or burden) of family vineyards.

Of course it wasn’t — and still isn’t — that easy. For a start you need to know what you’re looking for, where it might be found, and then you need to secure the grape supply before anyone else does. Two of the most successful of these fruit sleuths are John Seccombe (Thorne & Daughters) and Leon Coetzee (Fledge & Co).

Their modus operandi is different, and so are their wines. Seccombe has been narrowing down his search, focusing on the vineyards he’s been following for most of the past decade, tweaking the wines he’s been making almost from the outset; Coetzee has been at it for a little longer, but more like a kid in a candy store. As a result his range is much larger. Every time he discovers a great vineyard he can’t help himself from turning its grapes into wine. His knowledge of the diversity of the Cape’s viticultural treasures is little short of extraordinary.

He is as creative in his choice of wine names — aided (and sometimes misled) by Google/Google translate. He works with a palette of almost 30 varieties from some 50 different sites, all corralled into about 20 different wines. There’s something a little ADHD about it all.

The core range includes Katvis pinot noir (from Elgin), Vagabond (mainly chenin but with marsanne, grenache and bukettraube), a syrah from sites in Elim and Elgin and a Constantia riesling. Other wines tasted recently include the Praeteritus Bosstok Tinta Barocca, the 2018 Hoeksteen chenin from two old vineyards (Bottelary and near False Bay), and a palomino from an ancient block in the Klein Karoo.

The 2022 pinot is superfine and great value. The 2020 syrah is brilliantly managed, savoury and fragrant. Together with the tinta (an acquired taste unless tannins don’t frighten you) these are easily affordable (R180-R245), and easy to consume with abandon. If you like riesling you must buy the current 2021 release; the vineyard has been lost to more saleable sauvignon. And you ought to buy the palomino: delicate, luminous and pure. It is easy to drink and to enjoy at R195 (10.5% alcohol).

Seccombe’s wines come with names as bizarre as Coetzee’s — except that at least they are thematically connected, in this case to the idea of childhood — befitting his Thorne & Daughters brand. Seccombe “does” semillon: Tin Soldier 2023 is mainly semillon gris (hence the bright coppery hue). It is savoury, elusive and silken. The Paper Kite is semillon from a vineyard planted in 1963. It is fuller, seemingly riper, intense and succulent, as polished as a great white bordeaux and at least as layered.

The 2023 Cat’s Cradle Swartland chenin (all old vineyards) is concentrated and plush, but not overdone. Despite the opulence, it is bone-dry and delivers length and persistence seldom seen on a young wine. The Rocking Horse white blend, led by roussanne and chardonnay, is linear but not austere, throwing out aromatic whiffs the way a prism refracts light. Finally the 2022 Wanderer’s Heart Rhone-style blend is dense, spicy, textural and quite seductive.

Seccombe is one of the Cape’s finest and most focused winemakers. Just more than 10 years into his Thorne & Daughters venture there’s nothing spare or ill-thought out in his aesthetic vision — and nothing tentative about the execution.

This column was originally published in Business Day. 

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