Interview: Duncan Savage, Savage Wines, South Africa

As winemaker at Cape Point Vineyards Western Cape, South Africa Duncan Savage crafted Cape Point’s signature white, Isliedh. Isliedh was critically acclaimed not only in South Africa but globally. This recognition catapulted Duncan upon the world stage and onto the radar of wine critics far beyond his native South Africa. Duncan has left Cape Point to pursue his dream of owning his own winery, aptly named Savage Wines.

I have found Duncan to be genuinely friendly and eager to share his passion for his new venture. When I approached him with an interview request he graciously accepted and responded with candid insight into his journey as a winemaker past, present and future. He confidently answered all the questions I posed to him. Covering the subjects of how he sources his grapes, what grape characteristics he seeks and his favorite wine grapes plus a description of his winemaking style were seamlessly blended with his personal commentary. Duncan covered all these inquiries plus much more in his honest and straight – forward reply. I decided that I couldn’t tell Duncan’s story better than he had himself. The following is my interview with Duncan Savage of Savage Wines in its entirety and verbatim.

Going on my own was the plan from day 1, I just did it a little later than intended. My initial plan was to do so at the age of 35 which to a certain extent I did as my brand was in the market.

I finally took the plunge last year at the age of 38. The time was essential to get the brand up and running. The reality is that if one starts from scratch without money in this industry it’s a very tough scenario. I would have been able to do so had I been single and prepared to rough it, but with kids that need to go to school etc. I needed time. We have no investors involved which I’m really happy with as it’s our family name and is really important to us.

As a result the plan was to lease cellar space, vineyards and purchase other fruit. We kicked off the 2017 vintage in a rented space with some mates with a 3 year plan to put together a home for the brand. A brand needs a home if it’s to be a serious player in the long term. I got a call from a mate in the end of Jan. who had decided to sell his place which was crazy as I’ve always loved his set up! It’s an urban winery in Salt River alongside Woodstock in Cape Town and absolutely epic! I grew up 10 minutes down the road from the place! My 3 year plan became a 1 week plan and a mad scramble to raise some cash…

The challenge with the whole thing is to commit. Is an urban winery what we want, isn’t there a farm option, trucking of grapes into the city etc. The reality is that had we bought a farm we would have continued to buy grapes from the 13 different growers we source from and have done so from the beginning. We have an established style and vision and we don’t want to mess with it. Sourcing fruit is sustainable if one has the relationships in place and is prepared to pay for the good stuff. Farming is tough and growers need to be able to sustain these old parcels that crop next to nothing. Growers that have been on their land for generations also have a deep understanding of terroir, even if the don’t make wine themselves. It’s an understanding of the land that Joe wine guy can’t expect to develop in the short term. 

I cut my teeth on maritime vineyards and always have liked the freshness one gets from such sites. We have always favoured the maritime or high altitude options and 4 of the 6 Syrah sites I work with have a view of the ocean. Many of the others might not have the view but get klapped by the prevailing SE wind off the cold Atlantic due their proximity. These elements and farmers mould what we do, the rest is basically early picking and gentle handling in the winery. I’m in the business of selling wine, if my wines were 15+ alcohol I’m not selling 2 bottles in a restaurant or drinking it myself. I want people to finish the bottle and be thirsty for more wine, whether it’s one of mine or one of my mates.

In SA, we have a warm climate conducive to many different varieties. I’m a big fan of the likes of Syrah and Cinsault as there is not real green flavour pressure, one can pick nice and early which is awesome. We are going to see more of an influence from Portuguese varieties like Touriga Nacional going forward, some good things happening already. I’m a massive fan of Burgundy and the Northern Rhone, love the finesse and elegance in many of these wines!

Our philosophy is very much finesse and elegance, wines that are not trying to take center stage. Wine is a part of life and needs to fit in rather than dominate. We want Savage Wines to become a fixture on the SA and world wine scene and that’s why we are investing all we have back into the business and industry. This is a not job, its what we do whether we were loaded or not, it’s our life. We will continue style wise as we have begun but will be introducing new wines into the range as we find awesome parcels where the results are what would drink and enjoy ourselves. The Savage story is just in the introduction, I’m not sure how it’s going to end but we are going to have a good time in between.” 

I hope you enjoyed getting to know Duncan Savage the winemaker, the visionary and the man. It isn’t often that we get to have a front row seat as the curtain rises on a new winery. We usually arrive late and rely on the comments of those who were there before us. Here is a rare opportunity to watch and taste a brand evolve from it inception. As for me, I’m going to settle into my seat with my glass in hand to see and taste how this show plays out.

http://Savagewines.com  E-mail: info@savagewines.com     Tel. +27 21 785 4019

 

Duncan Savage

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About wpawinepirate

Wine lover from Western Pennsylvania that wants to tell everyone how far the winemakers here have come and what they are doing now.
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One Response to Interview: Duncan Savage, Savage Wines, South Africa

  1. talkavino says:

    Very nice work, Rich – I like the raw energy in this interview, which you captured extremely well. Defnitely a unique case, as you said – an opportunity to watch the creattion of the winery from the very beginning.

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