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Uncorked: South African winemaker preps for growing season

Adam Mason
Adam Mason

Adam Mason has been pruning since June.

The Mulderbosch winemaker can prove it with the South African dirt under his fingernails. With June, July and August being the winter months in the Southern Hemisphere, Mason hopes for rain and prunes. He also just finished an olive harvest two weeks ago. He leads the team to prepare wires, drip lines and graft vines where necessary. There’s bottling and blending in the winery.

It’s a busy time.

While U.S. winemakers are prepping bird nets to protect their fruit, Mason is busy getting every possible detail set in the vineyard to maximize the potential of a successful growing season. 

Winemaker spotlight

A walk through the Mulderbosch vineyard is like an interview for Adam Mason.

As he scours the vineyards, which are part of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative, he’s immersed in a landscape filled with native birds, animals and insects. It’s a process of getting to know the vines, the land and everything that will eventually lead to harvest. 

“When you see the vineyard pruned, it tells a story that’s the vine with no leaves, the skeleton basically,” Mason said. “You can see which vines are weak, which shoots are the ones to keep and which are in the best position. That gives me an understanding of the vineyard. I see where the vigor is or if there’s disease. Time in the field gives me an understanding about the behavior of the plant.

“It’s really all about vigor. A vigorous plant will produce a certain quality of fruit. This all leads up to the big harvest day. By the time the grapes arrive in the winery I want to know exactly what to expect from them. That’s my ambition. It’s what drives us.”

In his second year at Mulderbosch, with vineyards that have a unique topography, surrounded by the Indian and Atlantic oceans for a strong Maritime influence, high altitude vineyards and a Mediterranean climate, Mason has developed a focus on balanced wines.

With a resume that includes the numerous co-ops in Southern France in tiny appellations, Mason has loads of worldly experience that has brought him to the conclusion that wine is a contributor to a regions’ greater culture. He favors nuanced and balanced wine rather that the “show stoppers” that electrify critics, but are often unobtainable to the general public.

“Maybe due to more travel globally, the wine industry is more open than it’s ever been,” Mason said. “Young people travel the world, discover new cultures, eat their food and drink their wine. For them the wine is not the end product, it’s the knowledge of culture and wine forms a part of that. When it forms a piece of a much bigger picture naturally it must be balanced or there’s no place for it. For me, wine is all about restoring ... you’ve got to feel invigorated and revived after a glass, not heavy and sleepy.”

What to buy

Mulderbosch, Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 ($14.99): A floral nose paves the way for a lemon zest, honeydew melon and cantaloupe flavor that is all held together by a stoney minerality on the finish.

“Sauvignon Blanc needs some palate weight,” Mason said. “I don’t go for the thin and green flavors with asparagus notes. We want to produce a rich, round, yet refreshing wine.”

Mulderbosch, Chenin Blanc, 2011 ($14.99): This is a fuller-bodied white wine. Limes and pears on the nose yield to a striking presence of grapefruit flavors at the finish. There’s amazing balance and freshness at a bargain price.

Mulderbosch, Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, 2012 ($12): The dedication shows as the grapes used in this wine are meant solely for this bottling. It’s not the first press of juice that will eventually go to a red wine. Higher yields led to vibrant acidity and charming strawberry and cherry notes.

“We treat our rosé like our Sauvignon Blanc,” Mason said. “We crush, de-stem and let it cold settle. We use the same aromatic yeasts for a fresh vibrant aromatic rosé with a low 12.5 percent alcohol.”

All three wines are ideal to enjoy on a hot day.

Wine 101

A question about a new Mulderbosch project felt like a geology class lecture.

“Geologically it’s incredible,” Mason said of South African terroir. “There are three rock formations on the Western Cape represented in Table Mountain. First is a layer of eroding quartzitic sandstone at a high altitude of 6,000 feet. The next layer is a massive granite inclusion that happened 250 million years ago. The very oldest Malmesbury Shale is some of the oldest on earth that predates the continental drift. It formed on the ocean floor under tons of pressure. That geology sets the scene for the entire wine land.” 

Mulderbosch will produce a single vineyard Chenin Blanc, a varietal Mason said defined the Western Cape since it’s been present since the late 1700s, in each type of aforementioned soil. The result should be three distinctly different wines when they come online in 2014. 

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at

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