Ever fancied making your own wine? Designing your own funky wine labels and impressing your friends with a bottle of hand-made vino? My husband and I did just that; we made our own wine-garagiste style with the aid of the Topaz Wine Company and Black Pearl Vineyards and we are not alone. Plenty of folk with normal day jobs are getting their garagiste on.
So what exactly is a garagiste?
A garagiste is someone who makes small quantities of hand-made wine, literally in their home garage or garden shed. The amount produced is important; it needs to be less than 12 000 bottles per vintage to qualify. Garagiste winemaking is about getting your hands a little dirty, sharing a passion for wine and to quote Dr Lance Nash of Black Pearl Vineyards it is all about the F word, FUN.
Our wine-making journey began last February at the small Agter Paarl winery, Black Pearl. We had visited the farm a few times previously and had come to enjoy both the wine and entertaining company of father and daughter team, Lance, and Mary-Lou Nash. Mary-Lou is not your typical Paarl wine farmer; she’s American for starters and sort of fell into it all by accident. She was backpacking through Asia, when she heard her dad had retired to a small wine farm at the Southern tip of Africa and decided to make a quick detour and see what he was up to.
Mary-Lou had little idea back then what fate had in store for her but before long she was managing the farm, replanting vineyards and making her first vintage of Shiraz in 2001. She started out as a garagiste winemaker with the aid of passionate individuals like garagiste pioneer Cathy Marshall and Tanya Beutler, of the Topaz Wine Company. Nowadays Mary-Lou’s quantities exceed garagiste criteria but her methods, machinery and attention to detail are largely unchanged.
The garagiste winemaking course was run by Tanya Beutler and Anthony Hill of the Topaz wine company. Tanya was first to greet us and run through the day’s planned events. Our first job was to head to the vineyards with clippers in hand and to fill our crates with good bunches of Shiraz grapes. Tanya and Mary-Lou were there to inspect our work and give us a few pointers on working in the vineyards. We then took our full load back to the cellar to begin de-stemming and crushing, in order to gently break the skins and release the juices for fermentation.
Mary-Lou (AKA the mischief maker) walked us through the various stages in the cellar, some of which were already in progress from the previous day’s harvest. She talked us through the use of sulphur dioxide to prevent oxidation and the various types of analysis a winemaker must make to check sugar and acidity levels in the wine. We discussed the various types of yeasts available to winemakers and got to flex our muscles, pushing the skins to the bottom of the fermentation bins.
We also got to operate Mary-Lou’s one-ton manual basket press which can press up to five tons a day. The press uses a lot of manual power and is hard work but is more cost effective and therefore popular with garagistes. Let me just say that winemaking is not for sissies, especially in the Paarl heat and I was quite happy when the lunch call came and it was time to stop making wine and start drinking it instead.
Fast forward 14 months later and we were back at Black Pearl to bottle and label our wines and take part in our first bottling party. It was great to meet up with the crew again and discover that a few individuals were now working for local cellars and had even participated in harvests abroad, honing their winemaking skills.
We started off proceedings with a tasting of our wine and were happy to announce that our 2015 Shiraz was a winner. We then got down to business, sterilizing bottles, filling and corking bottles and then finally sealing and labeling with our own personalized labels. There was a fair bit of wine sampling in between, including a barrel tasting of Mary-Lou’s 2014 Mouvedre, which delivered in true Black Pearl style: well balanced dark fruit and silky tannins. Not only was it a fun learning experience but my wine rack is now full of my very own wine; now that’s satisfaction!
For those interested in garagiste winemaking, the Garagiste Movement in South Africa is now a formalized body which aims to promote garagiste winemaking and provide educational and technical support to its members.
The Topaz Wine Company is situated at the Delvera Outdoor Village in Stellenbosch; they offer excellent wine ambassador training, online wine courses and wine tastings of their own garagiste wines. For more information visit their website.
To find out more on the latest and greatest wine farms check out Kim’s blog: www.boutiquewinerytours.com
Topaz Wine Company
When Monday, Thursday, Saturday 8am – 4 pm
Where The Cellar, DelVera Biodiversity Estate, Route 44, Stellenbosch
Contact +27 21 855 4275, [email protected]
Black Pearl Vineyards
When By appointment only
Where Rhenosterkop Farm, Route 44. Agter Paarl, Paarl
Contact Mary-Lou +27 83 297 9796, Lance: +27 83 395 6999, [email protected]
Photography courtesy Kim Rabe