Winemaking ‘off the beaten track’

I first met Ryan Mostert and his partner, Samantha Suddons when they were at Reyneke, helping to create the early rumblings of excellence from that cellar.

It took a further few years and the launch of Terracura Syrah (there was a prototype served at the last Cape Wine, if I’m not mistaken) to learn more about the path to where they are now.

Mostert has had a roundabout entry to wine; he knew he wanted to work in agriculture and loved wine but hadn’t tied the two together when he spent two years studying in Italy at a college similar to Elsenburg. Returning to South Africa, he signed up to do a BSc at Stellenbosch, a move soon curtailed when, reading Wine magazine, his attention was caught by an article on Johan Reyneke and his biodynamic approach.

A visit to the farm resulted in him and Suddons moving to Reyneke; she assisting in the tasting room, he ostensibly helping around the farm, though it didn’t take long for him to end up in the cellar.

Weekends saw the pair exploring further afield and eventually into the Swartland, a place where Mostert says ‘We left a bit of ourselves every time we went there.’ This was the time of the Swartland Revolution; at the first of these events, business-man, Michael Roets bought a Nomblot concrete egg which he required to be filled with chenin blanc. Then Eben Sadie and Adi Badenhorst obliged, the wine being labelled Silwervis (after the silver-coloured, wine-filled bag in a box).

Three years later, Roland Peens, of Cape Town’s Wine Cellar, suggested forming a company with Roets and Mostert, describing the latter who he’d met at Reyneke, as ‘The most passionate person about wine I’ve ever met.’

Since then, Silwervis, still chenin blanc made in that concrete egg, has been joined by a red version from cinsaut. Fruit for both is drawn from single vineyards on the Paardeberg, winemaking is as non-intrusive as possible, just a little sulphur being added.
These two and the other labels I’ll get to, were served blind along with some international benchmarks at last week’s launch at Wine Cellar.

Some of white wines poured at Terracura launch. Smiley NV & Silwervis 2nd & 4th from right.                                                                                   
Some of reds served at Terracura launch. Smiley 2nd right, Silwervis & Terracura far left.


I prefer Silwervis Chenin 2015’s flavours, some peachy concentration behind its austerity, to the rather funky nose which also shows some age. The red, egg-fermented Silverwis Cinsaut 2015 (both R375 ex Wine Cellar) is much more appealing with youthful exuberance throughout its persistent juicy spice and red fruits; exuberant but not too showily perfumed that some whole-bunch reds can deliver.

Another label, Smiley, also white and red versions for R150 each, both NV or rather multi-vintage, was introduced after Silwervis. The story behind the label and the name will answer some furrowed brows. Mostert describes the wines as, ‘Little bits of off-cuts put together,’ which explains the, for some, unsavoury label, a sheep’s head, also an off-cut and known as a Smiley in South Africa.

The wines are much more attractive, even though Mostert admits he’s looking for; ‘Off the beaten path type flavours, rather than fruit.’ The current white Smiley, version three, is 100% chenin blanc, 50% from 2017, the balance from four older vintages, some with flor associated most with Sherry but, more importantly for Mostert, the Jura. This character is exemplified by the Tissot Arbois Savignan 2011 served between Smiley and Silwervis. The Jura has come from nowhere to being the goût de jour.

Very much in the modern way of un-manipulated wines, Smiley is the antithesis of fruity young whites with fresh, earthy character of natural ferment, the texture enhanced by a light grip from skin contact and a bone dry finish. The evidence of flor is subtle at this stage, but Mostert assures it increases with age. Red Smiley is based on cinsaut and mourvèdre (40% each) with syrah and tinta barocca making up the balance. Red Jura and Beaujolais inspire the style in this delicious, medium-bodied mouthful of fresh red fruits, nip of spice and gentle squeeze of tannin; a great value wine.

Ryan Mostert with Terracura

It’s a brave winemaker who puts his or her first syrah up blind against two top northern Rhônes, but Mostert and Suddons are inspired by and fanatic fans of Domaine Jamet, a leading light in Côte Rôtie; they couldn’t resist including Jamet’s 2013. Verzier’s St Joseph La Madone 2013 made up the trio. Terracura 2015 (R375), meaning caring for the earth, is a blend of three vineyards on the Paardeberg, Kasteelburg and a third outside Malmesbury. Obviously a young wine, it shows class, an elegance of white spice contained by fruity acid and tannin freshness. A tasty, digestible syrah, that promises to develop well with time; it’s a welcome newcomer to the ever more impressive ranks of local syrah/shiraz.

For those, like Mostert with his winemaking, who want to explore off the beaten track with their taste buds, Silwervis, Smiley and Terracura are very promising paths to follow.


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