Winemakers often fall into two camps: some inherit the title and are described as having “winemaking in their DNA”; others have an encounter or “epiphany” which sets them on the path to winemaking, or a sense of romance that “ties them to the land”.
No such talk when it comes to Andrew Wightman and his son Brandon. In fact, Andrew readily admits that in their case, it was far from love at first sight.
“My plan was to pull out all the vineyards. I wanted more room for my horses and I’d always wanted to raise cattle. But my neighbours, and the farmer I bought the land from, politely told me ‘no’.”
So Andrew was left with several old vineyards, at the foot of the Paaderberg mountains in Malmesbury, and a new calling thrust upon him.
“We had absolutely no knowledge of farming vineyards, no knowledge of making wine either. The only knowledge we had about wine was how to drink it!“
Previously Andrew had grown and sold organic vegetables to local farmers markets and raised livestock, so he knew about farming. With his son Brandon they quickly began to learn the ins and outs of winemaking, with the help of the local winegrowing community. Their neighbour, as it happened, was Craig Hawkins of Testalonga, not a bad person to have on hand to help.
“We started farming and just started to fall in love with the vineyards.”
With Craig providing a listening ear, the Wightman family began to nurture the vineyards, using organic practices and learning how to make wine traditionally.
“When we bought the farm we didn’t start farming organically right away- we took over the methods of the previous owners, the amount of shit they were spraying, I never understood it at all! It took me a few years to understand what was happening.
“Since we’ve moved to organics, my bank statements have been decreasing – conventional sprays cost a lot more!”.
After five years on the farm, and with the vineyards moving towards practicing organic viticulture, they started reaping the rewards.
“Farming for me is what’s exciting. Since we’ve farmed organically the amount of activity in soil, the wildlife, earthworms, and insects is amazing”.
“The soil’s benefited from our work, you can see the change in the plants. Because of the drought, the roots are digging down, two to three metres, to find water. The plants just look amazing, they’re beautiful and green. You get out what you put in,”.
Andrew has five blocks of Chenin Blanc, the youngest planted 16 years ago and the oldest 56 years ago. They also have a small block of Clairette Blanche and some Pinotage and Mourvèdre, and in 2015 they planted some Macabeo. Soils are primarily decomposed granite and sand, with a thin layer of clay beneath. The younger blocks towards the bottom of the hill have stonier, shale-based soils that are less fractured.
Fruits of their labour
We work with three of their wines, beginning with A&Bs Blend, which Andrew describes as their “everyday wine”.
The idea for this came, like so many great ideas do, over a few beers and a braai out on the farm when they were starting out. Andrew and Brandon decided that, as the Clairette and Chenin were ready at the same time, they would co-ferment the two varieties. After two vintages, they tweaked the winemaking, fermenting the two grapes separately with wild yeasts in neutral oak, then blending afterwards. They kept the original proportions the same, with 70% Chenin Blanc and 30% Clairette, the Clairette adding some pithy, pink grapefruit bitterness to the concentrated baked apple richness of the Chenin.
Moving up the hill of their farm, their 56-year-old block of Chenin goes into the aptly named Old Bushvine Chenin Blanc. Yields from this block are tiny, enough to make a barrel and a half on a good year and considerably less on a bad year. The Chenin is interplanted with a little Crouchen or Cape Riesling, a barely-known variety that adds a jolt of freshness. Winemaking is kept simple and with minimal intervention: grapes are whole bunch basket-pressed and fermented in barrel, it ages in neutral oak for nine months.
It’s a concentrated, intense Chenin Blanc, the old vines providing depth and power to the wine. It sits between the Loire and South Africa in style, textural, rich and with bright red apple, green pear and lemon pith freshness – certainly a wine that can relax in the cellar for a while.
But it’s not all modern cape classics. Skin-Contact is predominately Chenin Blanc – a mixture from all five of their plots, with 11% of their recently planted Macabeo added. 13 days of skin contact lends a gentle bronze hue, there’s an interplay between the pithy, phenolic bitterness and the fresh citrus characters, that lend plenty of drinkability.
A Sustainable Future
As with all young projects, Wightman & Sons are evolving year by year, refining their wines and developing in confidence and quality.
There’s a contingency plan of sorts – Brandon has just finished studying winemaking, and has begun making his own wine, also completing a vintage with Tremayne Smith of Blacksmith Wines. Despite Brandon’s increasing involvement, the wine bug has definitely bitten Andrew hard.
“I suppose the idea is that he’ll come back and essentially take over making the wine. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop!”
If you’d like to taste the Wightman & Sons wines, please get in touch.