Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to spend two weeks touring wine country in South Africa, a trip that was supposed to happen almost exactly two years beforehand in April 2020. We all know why that didn't happen, so I won't dwell on it any further... I've long loved the wines of South Africa, but until this trip I didn't know enough about them – I'm a firm believer that wine tastes better the more you know about it.
And so, with a little help from our good friend Ellen Doggett at The Sourcing Table, my wife Jess, and I found ourselves accidentally eating second lunch in Stellenbosch with one of the most engaging people in the wine trade I have ever met: Kayleigh Hattingh. It was hard to resist when she insisted, we try the steak tartare at the Fat Butcher (a local favourite recommended by literally every winemaker we met in Stellenbosch) and then maybe the calamari as well. And go on, burrata too, it's just too good to miss. Kayleigh and her wines took me completely by surprise - it was delightful.
Kayleigh is bright, funny, and vivacious, and her personality really comes across in the wines she makes. Despite also being the winemaker at Kaapzicht - one of the major names in the area - in her mid-twenties, Kayleigh speaks with real sense of humility.
She talks about her wines as a work in progress, always looking to improve and develop them as she explores different sites and techniques.
We went off on a fascinating tangent on the impact of barrel fermentation and how it spikes the temperature, stressing the yeast and causing a richer, fuller wine. Later we talked about different cap management methods for the red and how to best polymerise the tannins... her attention to detail and viticultural curiosity is both insatiable and infectious.
While she will certainly hone her techniques, to capture the character of these two plots more accurately over the years, let me tell you dear reader, these wines are already fully formed and glorious.
Although Kaapzicht are making more traditional rich, oaky wines, Kayleigh's passion is - in her own words - natural wines. A divise labelling, but ‘Rebel Rebel’ wears it with supreme ease. These are low intervention wines with minimal, if any, added sulfur, guided by the vines and site above all.
They are natural wines with all the purity and sense of adventure but none of the faults. They are also, to use a ‘technical’ term, really cool!
The name ‘Rebel Rebel’ pays homage to Kayleigh's innovative and experimental approach, but also to her lifelong idol: David Bowie. The lightning bolt on the label matches a tattoo on her wrist, and she tells us her parents remember her singing along to Bowie as soon as she learnt how to talk.
I like to think that there's similarities to Bowie's music in the wines too: 'Rebel Rebel' are treading their own path, inexplicably moreish, and driven by real soul. Oh, and they rock.
This wine is made from the oldest Colombar vines in South Africa, planted in 1986 on decomposed granite soils with lots of sand and some shallow clay. They sit at the base of the valley, bush vines sprouting among prickly pear trees, shrouded in fog that drifts down from the mountains in the morning.
The nose brims with delicate white flowers, crunchy green apple, and river pebbles. The palate is super citrusy with a herbaceous background of bay leaf and fresh thyme. It's also got a slightly chewy phenolic texture alongside laser-like acidity. There's an intensity of flavour and character here driving it forward like its gathering speed - it's delicious now but I'm sure it would gain some incredible complexity over a few years if you can resist it.
This vineyard is the highest in the area, sitting around 320m with Kayleigh's plot framed between two massive granite boulders, buffeted by cold sea breezes. The cooling influences of altitude and the cape winds create a perfumed nose and fresh cracked black pepper character that wonderfully enticing. Yet the palate is more brooding, loaded with ripe damsons and black olive tapenade, finishing on a gamey note. The tannins are classic Syrah, fine grained but pleasingly chunky and the lasting impression is a balance of elegance and oomph, like a rumbling cello.
Alex Aldersley-Hey is one of those rare and wonderful people in wine who manages to make a big topic fun and engaging. After all, wine is to be enjoyed and as Alex can personally attest, an informed drinker will only gain more pleasure from the wines they drink. He is a keen writer alongside his day job as a wine Brand Manager, having published articles for JancisRobinson.com and The Buyer.
His trip to South Africa came about after he won the Vintners Scholorship in 2019, through his excellent results on the WSET Diploma Award exams. Here he met some incredible producers, but Kayleigh was a real stand out - a testament to her skills to shine in such a strong list of equally wonderful people. We are very pleased to be able to offer them to you in the UK, and share Alex's experience meeting her.