By: DALÉNE FOURIE
The Buddhist’s Nirvana, Maslow’s Self-Actualization, Epicurus’s Ataraxia. All pinnacles of mental freedom depending on your school of thought. A fitting subject in reference to wine, given it’s association with freedom.
There have always been theories on HOW to achieve your very best self, it’s part of the human condition: HOW to be happy.
On closer inspection you’ll find that happiness comes with a number of strings attached. In Maslow’s case 4, only attainable once you’ve seen to sustenance, safety, love and esteem. While Nirvana signifies the highest sense of happiness and liberation from the ever-repeating cycle of birth, life and death. It occurs once you’ve extinguished the three fires: greed, hate and ignorance; though a fatal flaw (based on our understanding) is that it can only be enjoyed dead…
Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher (c.340 – c.270B.C.E.) proposed that the ultimate goal of human life was to attain a sense of tranquility (ataraxia) free from fear or pain through knowledge. He advocated a modest lifestyle, focused rather on attaining peace through understanding than accumulating wealth, fame or things. In doing so, his atomist teachings was to become the cornerstone of the theory of atoms and the concept that all things are made up of millions of indivisible units.
It is this intriguing mix of spiritualism and science that fuels the work of Kevin Grant, owner, soil farmer and winemaker at Ataraxia wines, set as it is on the Skyfields of the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. There’s a sense of ownership, pride, and it has to be said, tranquility here. The sense that someone is being his best self here.
It is uncommon for a winemaker to tell you about his wine and purposefully omit the varietals. He talks about his unwooded white, wooded white, wooded red and wooded red blend; rather than his scintillating zesty Sauvignon Blanc; 5 site, 96-point Atkin-rated Chardonnay; his perfectly transparent Pinot Noir and Burgundy inspired Serenity blend, the composition of which is ever-evolving (as it should be). Mr. Grant is a terroiriste you see, his focus rather on the 14 subdivisions of soil he cultivates and how to create accurate reflections of the soil, the climate, the aspect and terroir. “Express your dirt” he says. The three main soil types he deals with are Table Mountain Sandstone, Cape Granite and Bokkeveld Shale (Skalie). These soils are poor where they need to be, free flowing and allow for strong root systems to form, creating very honest expressions of these decidedly iconic pieces of land.
AN AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE
Iconic, as in, you’ll know it when you see it. A simple white barn, at the top of the rise overlooking the valley, a “Shrine to Wine” as Grant calls it, as befitting the Epicurean principles employed here. The winemaking mimics the lifestyle, a combination of science and gut-feel.
The Chardonnay is made from 5 separate sites around the farm, fermented individually in Burgundian barrels, toasted and aged according to block, and then blended according to taste/gut. The composition of the Serenity blend has been changing since 2005 (its maiden vintage), the goal being to avoid the expectations created by KNOWING the varietals and have an authentic experience. And that’s it, an ‘authentic experience’.
Rather than ramble on about acidity, varietals, the toasty barrels, the terroir, the rainfall (torrential rain while conducting this interview poked some serious holes in the whole drought issue on THIS side of the mountain), blending etc. Grant related an experience he had in 2016 at a Jacaranda Fynproewers Association Event. One of the attendees had brought 2 bottles of Grant’s maiden vintage Sauvignon Blanc, the 2005, which he had served eleven years ago at his 60th birthday for consideration. Now if you know white wine but AT ALL, you’ll know that in most cases a South African Sauvignon Blanc will not make it past the two to three year mark, and yet the acidity at play here saved this wine. The point however was not that the wine had stood the test of time (against all odds), but that when he glanced over at the now 71 year old man, he could tell that he was back at his 60th. Having an authentic experience.
THE RIPPLE EFFECT
It is in knowing that someone is employing a healthy amount of science and soul to produce something that gives THEM peace, that you get to sit back and EXPERIENCE it. It’s what makes a little life a big one, this ripple effect.