“I’ve never worked anywhere else,” says Miles Mossop. After nearly two decades of steering Tokara’s ship into award-winning wine territory, he’s soon to be sailing solo with Miles Mossop Wines.
Though these things don’t happen quickly: there’s 18 years of minutiae on Tokara’s wines and vineyards stored in his mind that he needs to share with his successor Stuart Botha with whom he’ll work his final harvest next year, leaving for good at the end of May.
We’re sitting at a low wooden table in the centre of De Warenmarkt, a market-cum-restaurant housed in a heritage building in the centre of Stellenbosch. “I was very inexperienced when I started at Tokara. I hadn’t even seen a wine to bottle yet,” he says.
His path to wine wasn’t a straight one. Growing up in Somerset West, he was sent to board at Wynberg Boys for his high schooling. “On the weekends I would jump on the train and go surfing.”
“My late father was a surfer and he got me into it at the age of six.” Mossop looks like your typical surfer: Dark blond hair shorn short – for many years he had industry’s longest mane – blue eyes and a tanned colouring layered on from years of salt and sun.
At the University of Stellenbosch, the first thing to try was a B. Comm, which he failed horribly. “I used all the tricks in the book to get back in. I always loved the sciences, so I studied and graduated with a degree in geology.”
“But I got a fright when I looked at job offers – most of them were in the middle of desert, 800 kilometres from the ocean and I realised I had to change tack.”
So swapping one kind of sediment for another, it was third time lucky at Stellenbosch where he then studied winemaking. “When I graduated only four of us in the class went on to become winemakers.” Those days there weren’t a lot of qualified winemakers, but it was a boom time for lot of new estates. “All these fancy new cellars, and there weren’t enough winemakers.”
He was working a harvest in Northern California at the time, and Tokara owner GT Ferreira and Gyles Webb kept trying to do a video interview with him, but those were the days before we had such limitless connectivity… eventually they decided he was the best candidate for the job anyway and went ahead with hiring him.
Somewhere in between all this he met his wife Sam at a mutual friend’s birthday party and the pair have been together for 20 years. Sam is an accomplished interior designer and Mossop says she’s created a beautiful home for them. “I married a woman with amazing style, and she married me because she had a thing for long haired surfers who drive bakkies,” he says laughing.
The couple have three children—Saskia (14), Max (12) and Kika (9)—as well as three dogs. “There were five dogs at one stage!”
“Family is everything to me,” says Mossop, pouring us glasses of white blend, Saskia. The Miles Mossop Wine range is named after his children (along with two more accessible wines titled ‘The Introduction which incorporate a Chenin Blanc and a red blend). “I have another wine coming out soon which isa Stellenbosch cab], and this one will be named after Sam. For years I’ve been saying I haven’t made anything good enough to be named after her, but that excuse is wearing thin now!”
It’s important to note that Miles Mossop Wines are nothing new. The first wines were made back in 2004, Mossop relating that the project initially it wasn’t even his idea but rather something that was suggested during salary negotiations – “ ‘Hey. why don’t you start your brand?’ said someone. So I did.”
Deciding to leave Tokara wasn’t an easy decision, Mossop having poured almost half his life to date into making the wines there. “The desire to continue with the MMW range was too strong. I’ve invested a lot into it, financially and emotionally, and I need to give it all the focus I’ve got>”
The Saskia 2014 in our glasses is a blend of Chenin blanc, Viognier and Clairette blanche, the first vintage having had a serendipitous start. “Saskia was the second premium wine to be made in South Africa in the style of what is now known as a Cape White Blend, Palladius, as made by Eben Sadie, the first, according to Mossop. And it was Sadie who, by chance, influenced the Saskia.
“Eben needed to use a press, so I told him to come over on a Saturday afternoon, and I would help him. He pressed a lot more juice than he needed so he gave me around 100 litres of Viognier—which I then added to the Saskia, which up until then was going to be a straight Chenin.”
The Max 2014 is up next, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and more recently Malbec. While tasting, Mossop admits he loves the richness and depth Petit Verdot adds to the blend. Completing the range (for now) is the Kika 2016, a Noble Late Harvest made from 100% Chenin blanc. Why make a sweet wine? “I love sweet wines. We don’t drink enough of them.”
We get up to leave, his kids are demanding he return with crêpes from De Warenmarkt, and then they’re all heading off to their annual holiday to St. Francis, where you’ll find all five of them in the water surfing.
When asked how he wants to position his wines, he says that his aim is to make wines with “finesse and elegance but still showing aspects of power and fruit concentration, having great texture while maintaining balance.” He’s also passionate about doing his bit to help make the wine industry sustainable by buying grapes. “So many growers are pulling out beautiful old vineyards – they can make more money growing easy-peel citrus.”
“Ultimately I like to hand the business to one or all of my kids, if they interested>” Well, their names are already on the door.
- Malu Lambert is a freelance food and wine journalist who has written for numerous titles including Food & Home, Good Taste and The Sunday Times. She has achieved Level 3 via WSET and won the title of Veritas Young Wine Writer 2015. She also owns story-telling agency, Fable, which works with high-end food, wine and hospitality brands, telling their unique stories in a variety of digital formats. Follow her on Twitter: @MaluLambert