Interview: Paul Nicholls and Rebecca Tanner of Fable Mountain Vineyards
By Christian Eedes, 10 March 2014
From the March issue of Business Day WANTED: Remotely located between Tulbagh and Wolsley and particularly beautiful, Fable Mountain Vineyards is owned by US company Terroir Selections, founded by Charles Banks who was the former owner of cult California winery Screaming Eagle.
Paul Nicholls, aged 35, and Rebecca Tanner, 38, are the “winegrowers” here (not for them the restrictive labels of “viticulturist” and “winemaker”). They live on the property with their three children, Inca, Maui and Coco plus Sunny and Daisy, their two Australian Cattle Dogs.
Paul, you’re South African and Rebecca, you’re Australian. How did you meet?
PN: I was working in the outback of Australia and one Sunday morning, I was hitching a lift back to the winery. Rebecca came along in this old beat-up kombi van, stopped and picked me up. She happened to be going to the same winery to start work so you could say it was meant to be!
Tulbagh is still a relatively unheralded wine area. How did you end up here?
RT: We are both very much into a more sustainable approach to life and are attracted to organic farming. On arriving back in South Africa, Tulbagh Mountain Vineyars [as Fable was previously known] was one of the only organic estates around. When we heard a job was going, we immediately jumped at the opportunity.
Charles Banks is a significant figure in the world of wine. What insights has he brought to bear?
PN: Charles is a great guy and a very talented entrepreneur. He has fantastic vision and invests in places with his heart as well as his money.
The first day Charles visited Fable, we all couldn’t stop talking about the potential of the place and the vision of where we wanted to see the farm and the wines going.
That vision is now starting to take shape – we’ve renovated the cellar and planted new vineyards on some very exciting sites. We’re also going biodynamic more and more – we’ve introduced animals into ecosystem and now have cattle and sheep and a few unruly pigs!
What’s the appeal of biodynamics?
PN: It’s a more sensitive way to farm where a conscious effort is made not to disturb the balances of this particular piece of earth and the wider ecosystem. On a personal level, it also teaches us to be more observant and intuitive in our decisions both on the farm and in the cellar.
Do you still buy in fruit from outside the district? If so, why?
PN: We buy in fruit for the Jackal Bird white blend. It is really a winemaker’s wine, whereas the reds are more terroir driven. Fruit for the Jackal Bird is sourced everywhere from the Karoo, to Elgin, to the Swartland.
You’re both into horse-riding. Tell us more.
RT: We love horse riding and do as much of it as we can – we find it is the best way to see the vineyards. The horses are mainly thoroughbreds – old polo ponies – plus a few Appaloosa and Percheron-crosses. The horse rides are open to the public (check out our website horseabout.co.za) and cater for all levels from beginners to experienced riders. The sunset and moonlight rides are fantastic.