“That’s far out, man,” was my flatmate’s response on the Sunday morning when I confessed that it would take us over three hours to drive to Sijnn Winery from our suburb in Stellenbosch.
“Well, I guess so,” I admitted. “But it’s also far out enough to be pretty damn special.”
It was on that note that we opted to venture beyond the familiar borders of the Cape Winelands District Municipality and brave the 230km drive to the far-flung and little-known appellation of Malgas, to visit winemaker Charla Bosman (née Haasbroek).
Wikipedia will tell you that “Malgas is a settlement on the right bank of the Breede River in the Overberg region of the Western Cape” and that the name “is probably an adaptation of the Portuguese mangas de velludo, ‘velvet sleeves’, referring to the Cape gannet with its black-tipped wings.” The key word here is probably. While the theory about the bird is quite sweet, what Wikipedia doesn’t tell you is that when you separate out the syllables, ‘mal gas’ can be directly translated from Afrikaans as ‘crazy gas’. I’m not particularly partial to narcotics (Chenin is my poison of choice), but as we turned off the N2 onto the desolate Malgas dirt road, I couldn’t help but wonder if one had to dabble in a bit of ‘mal gas’ to have fun out here.
ACTUALLY QUITE PRETTY
While negotiating the 40km stretch of jagged, tyre-munching stones, it’s hard to imagine anything, let alone grape vines, flourishing in this setting. It’s the kind of place where you feel a bit sorry for the odd sheep or cow you come across, and wonder what on earth they could be eating. That said, once you’ve adjusted to the sparseness of it all, you start to notice that the rocky soil has a subtle gradient from blueish-grey to brick red and that it’s actually quite pretty. In fact, were it not for the cornflower blue skies and occasional parched aloe or stubborn shrub, the road to Malgas could easily pass as a Mars film set.
As we drew closer to Sijnn, it started to make more sense to us why architect and winemaker David Trafford and his wife Rita described themselves as being “blown away with the incredible soils” when they first came across the area in 2000 and “immediately set about finding an appropriate property to purchase.” With little else to distract the eye, the shimmering soil is striking.
Upon turning into the Sijnn property itself, the red landscape suddenly gives way to row upon row of leafy bush vines. It’s the kind of sight that makes you rub your eyes a little in disbelief. More so, when you pass over the crest against which the winery building is nestled and first glimpse the winding Breede River with its scrubby riverbanks in the valley below. There’s something a bit Douro-esque about it, and even though Malgas is the furthest thing from established wine country, it’s not difficult to imagine a romantic pastoral history.
Charla, who joined the team in 2014 and has progressed to taking over winemaking at Sijnn, greeted us warmly at the winery and promptly began sharing the Sijnn story. Like the verdant bush vines, she’s a surprising sight in such a sparse location – young, effortlessly beautiful and full of life. “What’s it like for a young person living out in Malgas?” I asked, possibly not the most tactfully. “Uh, interesting!” she responded with a hearty laugh. “To be honest, initially I struggled a bit. Now that I’m married it’s a bit easier. And there are some nice shops in Swellendam. I’m not too deprived!”
Charla’s positivity is paired with striking humility. She takes great pains to give credit to the soil and vines with disclaimers like: “the quality is in the vineyards, which makes my job easy.”