I once asked the poet, Stephen Watson, why he wrote. It was late. We were sitting around a crackling fire in the Cederberg eating olives and cheese and drinking red wine. I had gone to find him in the mountains to talk about life and what I should do with mine.
“I write because I have to,” he said slowly and quietly, although the ache in his voice resonated so loudly in my head that I had to steady myself against the jolt of this truth. I was a young undergraduate, aspirant writer. But I only wanted to write and although my motivation for doing so wasn’t flawed, it wasn’t complete either. The truth was, I didn’t have to write. That was about thirty years ago.
Instead, I became a winemaker and I’ve been making wine for half my life now.
Some wine brands are real to me, in the sense that they are true – they reflect the stripped-naked, natural ambitions of their creators and mirror the natural forces that forge them. Most are just make-believe nonsense. This doesn’t stop them being relevant in the eyes of consumers, who generally have more important things to worry about. And to this extent, both have their roles to play.
As a winemaker I am more intrigued by what lies beyond a brand, what is essentially anti-brand matter – by this I mean the antithesis of all that is unwholesome about branding and the wine business – things like profit for profit’s sake, the unrelenting desecration of our natural environment for short term monetary ends, the grandstanding and slimy obsequiousness of “luxury” names…
We know this is only a result of our imperfect human condition and I accept this is the way the world works, but that doesn’t mean it is the only way it can work. I think it’s necessary to bring some balance to the madness. This antidote, I call anti-brand matter – it’s the place our real fears and desires inhabit.
Only the irrational and ridiculously wealthy in this business can ignore the fact that we exist in a financially-structured reality, where money is the master.
Conversely, only the naïve can ignore the fact that the current global financial system has been abused by the selfish, the cruel and the short-sighted. Greed-infected institutions and corrupted governments prop up the folly. The only thing in nature that mirrors this self-destructive, growth-at-all-odds mind-set is a cancer cell.
To some extent we farm to address this imbalance.
My granny, the larger-than-life musician, Elsie Fraser Munn, used to say: “Occasionally it is good to glance in the mirror to see who is there.” The face that stares back at me sometimes looks a little weary, as though a quarter of a century of winemaking, and questioning, has taken its toll.
There are reasons for this. I know them deeply, the way you know a smell from your youth, like new thatch or just-fired clay… – smells so intensely associated with memory that you know everything about them and their environment.
I can easily identify the choices that have sent me careering down the hard paths. And yet I can’t define them as mistakes. Many mistakes there have been, but I am relieved to say, they are not the reason I am where I find myself.
For a long time, this confused me, until remembered Stephen Watson’s words, and it all became astonishingly clear. I don’t make wine because I want to be ridiculously rich, influential or famous – these aren’t that difficult to achieve, by the way. I don’t even make wine because I want to make wine. I make wine because I have to. And I have to make a certain type of wine. The Drift Farm is the mountainous reflection of this uncomfortable truth.
Farming here, in the clasp of nature, is not for the fainthearted. Undeniably, it is sometimes wearisome. It is humbling. It is a daily lesson in generational, ecological, thinking. It is much more than a business; it is a very practical way of grappling with the mysteries of life.
The wines we craft are an attempt to unlock the truth of this place – the anxiety of unpredictable weather, the unfairness of our winds, the disdain of our soils. It is extreme. It is rough. But it is also a form of salvation.
Beauty and peace are found in the wine’s essence – in their unique voice. By making these wines honourably, they bring us closer to the seasons, nature and the earth in an enlightening way.
The wines this farm produces won’t banish the unfairness of life. They only promise to be beautiful and to be true, and that is elixir enough.
Wishing you all a merry Christmas with plenty of love, light and a few glasses of wine,