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Mullineux Story with Chris and Andrea

Posted: Wednesday, 09 December 2015 14:08

 

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Mullineux Story with Chris and Andrea

Dec 09: Chris Mullineux and his wife Andrea, who have the Chairman of the Max group Analjit Singh, as their new partner in the Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, are the new wave of younger producers of South Africa, who have leapfrogged and achieved an iconic status in a short amount of time. The Mullineux were in India last week visiting their Indian partner, when Subhash Arora met them at a private dinner and tasted a few of their award winning wines

Photos By:: Subhash Arora

Click For Large ViewJancis Robinson MW, considered by many as one of the most important wine critics in the world, recently addressed the members of the Magnum Club which has young women winemakers of the world as members.  A passionate advocate for South African Wines, Jancis said she was extremely impressed with the new generation of winemakers in South Africa. ‘I think the new generation in South Africa will change people’s opinion about their wines. Winemakers like Eben Sadie, Chris and Andrea Mullineux among others will open people’s eyes.’

South Africans have certainly been impressed with the quality of wines from Mullineux winery where the husband–wife team of Chris and Andrea Mullineux has done wonders- enough to bag for the first time in South Africa, 5 stars for five of its labels by the Platter’s Guide 2016 and declared as the Winery of the Year for the second time (it received this accolade 2 years ago for the first time) and having two of their wines declared as the Best Red Wine and Best Dessert wine. For the earlier report visit 671st edition of delWine published last month.

South Africa-born Andrea went as a child to the US where she grew up in New Orleans and later moved to San Francisco. She went to UC Davis for four years to get her BS degree in winemaking. She worked in a couple of wineries including Cakebread Cellars in Napa and then went to South Africa for about 6 months. After working with Waterford winery she went to Chateau-Neuf-du Pape in South of France. That is where she met Chris who is from Johannesburg, and was working in Bandol at the time.

Both were working in South Africa at Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, named Fable Mountain in its new avatar, on their return when an interesting offer came from Keith Prothero. He is a multifaceted, retired Britisher who wanted them to set up a winery with the venture capital coming from him. ‘We were in our 20s and normally would think of setting up our own winery 20 years later. We had already decided to get married and have kids, so the offer seemed tempting. We mulled it over for 2 weeks and decided to take the plunge. Chris and I got into the project in 2007 in partnership with Keith and another gentleman, Peter Dart, and started buying grapes and making wine in 2008 vintage at a rented winery, Reyneke,’ says Andrea. In 2012 Keith wanted to pull out. Rosa Kruger, the well-known viticulture consultant who was working with them and knew of Bhai Analjit Singh (BAS) being interested in investing in a winery, got them together. The rest is history.

Couple who came from behind

‘How did you come from nowhere and received so many awards and made such excellent wines,’ I wondered. ‘We were passionate enough and clear in our mind that we would make the style we wanted and not what everybody else was doing. That included staying away from too much wood (oak) and very high alcohol and getting the best grapes from whichever part of Cape it was possible and not necessarily restricted to one area. This goes for Leeu estate wines too. (The estate owned by BAS). We believe that wine should be age-worthy but should also give pleasure if drunk young,’ says Andrea, describing their style.

Click For Large ViewEasier said than done! But the couple have performed consistently well from the very first vintage and have never looked back, getting high rankings from various critics and writers during their journey thus far.

Cinsault Revival

Mullineux has been focussing on Chenin with a spattering of Viognier for whites and Syrah for reds but the Cinsault revival is on the cards at the Leeu Estate winery in Franschhoek. ‘Cinsault used to be a part of the South Africa wine history,' says Chris. ‘In the 1950s it was a predominant variety blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, sometimes blended with Cabernet as predominant grape while other times it was Cinsault on top. But we South Africans were ashamed to have any link with the past when we became independent in 1994 and the vintners stayed away from this grape and the blend. But we decided to re-ingress the grapes,’ he says, adding ‘from 2015 a new wine has been crafted in the Leeu winery in Franschhoek with Cabernet Sauvignon being between 75-85 % and the  balance as Cabernet Franc with a dash of Cinsault. The wine is still under wraps but it’s shaping up very well. We are very happy with it and can’t wait to release it at the end of next year,’ shares Chris who is obviously very happy about receiving the Platter’s Awards, despite his modesty.

Story of Platter’s Award this year

Andrea is a bit coy when she narrates the story of the Award Ceremony over a month ago as we enjoy the delicious snacks with the Kloof Street Chenin Blanc- a very crisp and fruity wine with tropical flavours and a mineral finish. ‘We had received a special invitation for the Awards Ceremony so we sensed we would be getting some top wine awards. One 5 star, two 5 stars... maybe 3! We were standing somewhere at the back when the programme began. When they started announcing the one 5-star wineries our name was not announced initially. But then there was a string of announcements and Chris told me to stay near the dais as he felt there would be more of them coming!’

‘Winery of the Year, two wines being the Red Wine of the year and Dessert Wine of the Year, Five wines getting the highest 5 stars- I tried to look calm but couldn’t help being really excited at the end,’ she admits honestly with a twinkle in her eyes.

Small beginnings

Despite the Awards the winery has been rather small in capacity in its initial years and the number of high end bottles produced was so tiny that the winery used sealing wax by hand instead of aluminium foils on the bottle tops,’ says Chris as he ventures to deftly uncork an ‘Iron Syrah’ and a ‘Granite Syrah’ made from different soil and that I wanted to taste. Click For Large ViewDemystifying the process, he says ‘we were obliged to use wax as the quantity involved was too small and getting aluminium foils was difficult and very expensive. But now we have moved to foils. All wines use cork as closure but the basic white is in screwcap. This is to maintain freshness and also the restaurants insist on screwcap as they sell it by the glass and it is easier to open than uncork every time,’ he admits.

Master of All Trades- and the business

Chris likes to call himself a Jack of All Trades but he is really a hands-on guy and is seen all over the place. As an example, Andrea who is sitting next to me at the dinner table, tells me, ‘he is even the tractor driver at harvest time. He doesn’t trust the other drivers and workers loading the trucks and drives the grapes to keep them at cool temperature-each journey being less than 90 minutes to the winery. We use only natural yeast so keeping the grapes cool and without bruises is very important for us. But this does not preclude him looking at the finances, administration and marketing  including export. In fact, he manages the rest of the company. However, we take joint decisions on the timing to harvest the grapes without anyone else calling the shots and decide on the blending together.’

Production

‘We produce about 200,000 bottles a year,’ says Chris ‘with red and white being 50-50 and the white being basically Chenin Blanc with a spattering of Viognier. Of reds 90% is Syrah varietal. Balance is single vineyard wines from Iron, Granite and Schist vineyards-and these make the iconic wines. We don’t make the single varietal every year but only during good vintages; otherwise we use the grapes in the generic Shiraz,’ discloses Chris. They are targeting to increase the production to 300,000 (25,000 cases) bottles during the current year.

Sulphur

Chris and Andrea are very particular about low Sulphur in their wines. ‘Whereas with other producers it may go up to 150 pp, we keep it at 40-60 parts per million by being organic in our farming, though not certified, and keeping the levels low.’ Chris suffers a headache when the quantity is even slightly higher than usual. In fact, sometimes while pouring Sulphur, I get an instant headache as if I have had too much to drink.’

Mullineux Straw Wine

One of their delightful and sinful wines is Straw wine made from Chenin Blanc. ‘The grape is harvested at the same time as the regular crop when the phenolic ripeness is achieved. The grapes are laid down on straw mats under shade for 3 weeks with water reduced to the extent that instead of 600 liters of wine from a ton of grapes only 150 liters are produced. This wine has 270 gm/l of sugar and 10 gm acidity,’ she tells me while we are going through the delicious pulao and curried lamb with the well-matched Iron Syrah at the dinner table.  I can’t resist whispering in her ears that I’d love to taste some with dessert. She obliges instantly by asking one of the smartly dressed waiters who pours it for everyone on the table. Soon there is a chorus of excited voices with everyone singing praises of the wine. The flavour of honey and lychie and a shade of orange is pronounced with the wonderfully balanced acidity and it goes down the gullet like elixir. Sold in South African retail shops at 300 Rands ($20 at the currently devalued currency) it is an excellent  value-for-money dessert wine, I concede instantly.

Andrea’s Club Chris can’t join

Click For Large ViewAlthough Chris and Andrea work together as a team and seem to be a very ‘ together couple’, having a daughter and son, 6 and 4 years old respectively, Andrea is a member of the prestigious Magnum Club which has young women sommeliers and producers from across the globe as members. ‘This is a women’s club and Chris cannot join. We meet in some part of the world at least once a year where we discuss the latest in the world of wine and women’s role in it,’ says Andrea as she shares with me how she knows our mutual friend Gaia Gaja personally through the club.  

Jancis Robinson mentioned at this recent event hosted by the Magnum Club at the ‘Corkbuzz’ in New York, ‘there is some magic at an all-woman event. Despite many powerful women in the wine business, I would say that still the most powerful positions in the wine business are held by men. I still think there is a bit of a fight to be had.’

In the case of Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, there is no such thing with the couple complementing each other and planning gradual expansion under the advice and concurrence from their new partner BAS who totally respects her skills and believes in being one of the top two or three in any venture that he undertakes and is sure she and Chris will do it.

To that I would say Cheers! Jai Ho!!

Subhash Arora

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Tags: Chris Mullineux, Analjit Singh, Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, South Africa, Jancis Robinson MW, Magnum Club, South African Wines, Andrea Mullineux, Chris and Andrea Mullineux, Platter’s Guide 2016, Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, Keith Prothero, Peter Dart, Reyneke, Rosa Kruger, Bhai Analjit Singh (BAS), Leeu estate, Cinsault, Franschhoek, Kloof Street Chenin Blanc, Straw wine

       

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