Craig and Carla Hawkins have been at the forefront of natural wine in South Africa since their first vintage in 2008, Craig having previously worked for Dirk Niepoort at his Austrian project (you may know him from the wonderful Niepoort Port range we stock).
Now the couple work with farmers all over the Swartland to secure grapes, with a simple philosophy of using a single variety from a single vineyard for each wine. At one stage Swartland was a region known only for its big, chewy red wines. However now there are some amazing old vines to work with, and at Testalonga, it's all about freshness and acidity as the backbone of the wines.
Craig produces a huge range of different wines from various parcels, with a focus on Mediterranean grape varieties and seeking out those older vineyards. When it comes to making the wines, there's essentially nothing added. Indigenous yeasts are used for fermentation, there's no fining or filtration and only the smallest amounts of sulphur are put in. This is simple, natural winemaking at its best.
It's worth pointing out that these wines sell out every single vintage and allocations are limited across the board. Luckily, we've managed to secure 13 of the different wines this year, all in fairly small quantities. We have wines from across the range of Baby Bandito and El Bandito wines, as well as some of the fantastic Ninja Pet Nat sparkling wines.
I've highlighted a couple of my standouts here that I'm definitely going to snag a bottle of for my personal collection - but you can see the whole range of Craig and Carla's wines here.
Easily the most fun and popular Testalonga wines are the Pet Nats - sparkling wine made by bottling wine that is partially fermented which causes a natural fizz without the need for added sugar. This wine is 100% Chenin Blanc and delivers a creamy, light fizz with flavours of white pear and green apple. It's the kind of wine that anyone can enjoy and the precision of the flavours and balance of acidity really make it stand out. Best enjoyed with good company - it makes a brilliant aperitif. Food wise, go for seafood. Something really decadent like scallops would work a treat.
The Baby Bandito range use names that are 'peppy one-liners' you'd say to a child to boost their spirits and egg them on. It suits the character of these fresh young wines, which are a great introduction to Testalonga's approach as they are unconventional but not challenging. The Chenin Blanc is made from fruit grown on bush vines over 50 years old, fermented spontaneously in whole bunches and bottled with minimal sulphur. The result is a bone dry wine with lively, energetic acidity that lifts the apple and white peach fruit which leaves you licking your lips. Try this with creamy goat's cheese or cured meats.
Hawkin's time spent making wine in the Douro is carried through here with his unusual use of Tinta Amarela grape, which is normally used in port. This wine however is almost the opposite of a rich sweet wine. Instead it delivers a juicy fruit salad of blackberries and blueberries with mineral, earthy notes. It has a light medium-bodied texture carrying the richness of the fruit into a fresh herbaceous finish. It's quaffable to drink on its own, but pair it with braised duck breast where the acidity cuts through the fattiness and the fruit complements beautifully.