A night out with Tremayne Smith of Fable Mountain Vineyards
I’m no stranger to Fable, having come across this magnificent farm a few years ago while scouring the Cape Winelands for extreme vineyards. At the time, a talented and somewhat prickly wine making couple had entrenched themselves here, putting the estate on the map thanks to their fantastic red wines.
Having moved back to Australia earlier this year, a replacement was found in the form of Tremayne Smith, one of the new wave of dynamic ‘Young Gun’ winemakers from the Swartland region pushing the boundaries and beginning to make on impact on the world stage. So with fond memories of my previous visits to Fable, I made my way back to find out what makes Tremayne tick.
After a day spent tasting out of barrels in the cellar and a late night philosophizing around the braai, I have no doubt that the wines of Fable are in safe hands. Over the next few years, as Treymane’s touch slowly influences the vineyards and in turn the vintages, expect the same incredible quality, but with a subtle change in style.
Why did you decide to become a winemaker?
My biggest influence was probably my father. I grew up in East London, in a home with wine around the dinner table. After school, I attended a culinary course and did a wine and food pairing class. That was it for me. I knew from then that I needed to make wine a career.
When and where did you qualify as a winemaker?
I moved down to the Western Cape in 2005 to study viticulture and oenology at Elsenburg Agricultural College.
Where did you start your wine making career?
Straight after I graduated, I began with a harvest internship at De Trafford Winery. after that, I became assistant winemaker for Sijnn. this was an amazing opportunity and I learnt a great deal there.
What do you enjoy most about wine making and why?
I love the whole process of growing and nurturing the vines to produce high quality fruit which we can then take and craft with minimal intervention. I then love to watch the wine evolving in the cellar, bottling it at just the right moment. I love that at the end of the day, I get to make a wine which I have enjoyed making and that someone, in return, will enjoy drinking.
Highlights in your career?
Being lucky enough to have mentors such as David Trafford and Chris and Andrea Mullineux. to share in the knowledge of their wine making philosophies and to have been so well-guided throughout my wine making career.
Your wine making philosophy?
To highlight the true nature and characters of the fruit and terroir, and to make handcrafted wines with minimal intervention in the cellar.
What do you regard as the main secrets behind Fable’s success?
One secret is the unique terroir. it’s really special and pretty tricky to farm, which adds to the appeal!
How do you feel about the SA wine industry’s present standing and future on the international market and why?
It’s a really exciting time. there are lots of younger winemakers making great wines and pushing the boundaries. there are also the classic producers making exceptional high-end wines, year after year. Together, they are putting the South African wine scene on the global map. and I think Chenin Blanc, SA’s true workhorse, is getting great recognition abroad.
Challenges for South African wine producers?
I think we need to start paying our farmers more for the fruit that is bought in. This makes it more financially viable for the farmers to keep the vineyards, especially the old vineyards. this in turn helps the labourers to get better wages and training. This all leads to better quality of life for everyone, which adds value to our economy.
How can we make wine more accessible to the SA population?
Accessibility is all about the exposure of the younger generation to wine culture. Making high quality wines affordable and offering unique and interesting marketing strategies is key.
Your favourite white and red wines to make and why?
Chenin Blanc. I love the diversity that Chenin can bring to the wines. You can pick early to get a great natural acidity and later to bring mid-palate texture and aromatics through. Cinsault, Grenache, Carignan and Syrah. I love working with all of these varietals. Cinsault brings freshness and some tannic grip. Grenache brings perfumed aromatics, fresh wild berries and great structure. Carignan gives you mid-palate darker fruits. Syrah is very versatile as when picked early, it brings fresh and aromatic components to the wine and when picked later, it gives you structure, spice and darker fruit aromas.
Your favourite pastimes/hobbies?
I enjoy cooking, especially outdoors. You can’t go wrong with a good braai. I built a bbq smoker awhile back and have been experimenting with using different wood for smoking. I also play cricket with some fellow winemakers from the Swartland.
Your goals and aspirations?
I really just want to make great wines that are terroir-driven, which the consumer can sit down and enjoy.