Craig Hawkins has made a name for himself as the biggest advocate of natural wine in South Africa. Together with significant other Carla Kretzel, he’s recently left Swartland winery Lammershoek to pursue his Testalonga brand of wines full time. Here’s a quick catch-up with the man behind some of the most interesting wines made in South Africa right now.
Feelings about leaving Lammershoek and going fully independent?
Amazing. I was making Testalonga before Lammershoek and it’s just about taking another step.
The concept behind Testalonga wines?
Organic single terroir vineyards, made from grapes (think about it). I like humour and I want these wines to express how I feel on the label – no stereotypes.
Your definition of natural wines?
Made from grapes (think about it) – organically farmed at least.
You recently bought a farm somewhere?
Secret for now, but it’s in the Swartland and is amazing.
Future plans we should know about?
Some exciting new plantings of new grape varieties for South Africa in the Swartland.
New wines on the horizon?
Petillant Naturel (from old Colombard), two new Baby Bandito wines and a skin contact Hárslevelű.
Why make skin-contact white wine?
It’s just another way of experiencing flavours that grapes give us.
Your best wine you’ve ever made?
Testalonga El Bandito Cortez 2014
Where was your first job in the wine industry?
Harvest intern with Eben and Niko Sadie.
Your wine mentors?
Neil Hawkins (brother making wine in Australia), Tom Lubbe, Eben Sadie, Dirk Niepoort, Dorli Muhr & Remi Pedreino.
Most under appreciated varietal in SA?
Hárslevelű and Muscat Alexandrie (“Hanepoot”).
The most misunderstood thing about wine?
Just because the bottle is heavy doesn’t make it more special.
Favourite food and wine pairing in recent memory?
Skin contact white with fried aubergine.
Best city to travel to for work?
Malmesbury. If not, then London.
Thoughts on Sauvignon Blanc?
Love it, it was the first Natural wine that changed the way I thought about everything – but it was from the Loire.
The difference between South African consumers and European consumers?
South African consumers frown first, Europeans ask why first (but they still wear funny pants).
Your worst wine nightmare?
Getting a 100 points.
On thing you’d wish you’d done differently?
Carried on playing the piano when I was 12 years old.
Three winemakers killing it right now in South Africa?
Mick and Jeanine Craven, Jurgen Gouws and Johan Meyer.
A winemaker who’ll burst on the scene in the next five years?
The SA wine producing area with greatest untapped potential?
Best thing about SA wine?
The future is wide open, everything is there for the exploring, we are really at the beginning.
One thing wine offers that no other drink offers?
The chance to meet Jurgen Gouws.
Worst thing about working with wine?
Seeing creative and expressive wines replaced with “what the consumer wants” wine.
Greatest thing about working with wine?
You get to work hard and play hard.
David Cope owns and runs Publik wine bar in Cape Town which focuses on unusual and interesting wines. When he’s not pouring the stuff he attempts to make wine more fun and approachable as a contributing writer to various local magazines.