These days there is no shortage of people that get labeled ‘best young winemaker’ or ‘one to watch’. Testalonga's Craig Hawkins is constantly described as such in the wine press, but it is beyond doubt that he is now very much established as one of South Africa’s finest vignerons.
Great South African wine is quite a recent phenomenon. During the apartheid, the wine industry was completely dominated by one organization, which controlled everything from production to price, so it is only since the early 1990s that independent wine producers have emerged.
Craig Hawkins is one of the most influential and certainly the most exciting winemakers of, not only South Africa, but the the New World. Producing wine in the Swartland in South Africa, he has helped to change the image of South African wine.
Craig's wines often have such complexity, derived from his winemaking methods, that he confounds the local authorities and due to their rigid mentality, he has been denied export certification from time to time due to his wines lacking ‘typicity’. Well then from my portfolio he joins Thierry Puzelat, Didier Barral and Francois Cotat in that regard, all brilliant and critically acclaimed winemakers who refuse to bow to convention in their quest for excellence and authenticity.
This is a stunning collection of wines that represent the pinnacle of what is possible in South Africa. Thoughtfulness and insight go hand in hand with Craig's prodigious talent and the result is just wonderful...
His El Bandito Skin Contact undergoes prolonged maceration on the skins for four weeks, which instills it with incredible texture and depth of flavour - quite brilliant. The skin contact has provided an extra layer of texture and depth to the wine and provides a gossamer veil of tannin that assist the wine to expand and cling on the driving finish.
The fruit for his El Bandito Cortez is so immaculate that Craig doesn’t need to add any sulfur. This wine is whole bunch pressed with no extended skin contact and fermented with wild yeasts and there are no additions at any point – the wine has an incredible energy and minerality, accentuated by a fine thread of acidity. It's neon intensity is something else!
Both these wines showcase what can be achieved when a winemaker casts off the shackles imposed by the establishment and sets a new benchmark for complexity in South African white wine.
Excitingly, this year Craig has also produced a stunning Syrah, called El Bandito Redemption. Its inspired by the elegance and perfume that Syrah can possess. He has wanted to produce a Syrah for quite some time but was waiting for the right vineyard to appear. In 2014 it did with bush vines on decomposed granite just outside Malmesbury. It is a beautiful example of Syrah, inspired stylistically by the superbly sensual and elegant St Joseph's of Herve Souhaut.
All in all, this is an incredible estate.