It was the vision of Marguerite Mavros Macdonald to plant vines in the Witzenberg mountains on her husband, Dugald’s family farm. I got involved in 2015 and this wine has become my favourite expression of South African Shiraz.
In South Africa we have the luxury of mountains. These mountains separate desert from coastal areas and create valleys and different exposures – enabling grape growers the opportunity to grow a wide range of varietals in a very small area. One aspect of South African terroir that still needs to be explored fully is height above sea level. And this wine is a great example of what Shiraz at 750 m above sea level can do.
The wine is named after my chance meeting with a little boy called William on the Witzenberg mountains. It’s been a fascinating story from the start, but became even more bizarre at the end of last year, with another chance meeting. I want to share the story with you today, but unfortunately the 2018 vintage is completely sold out. So I am pre-releasing the 2019 vintage. I will be bottling the wine on 3 June and immediately after labelling we can deliver. You can place your order today. Just drop email@example.com an email for pricing / allocations and other wines now selling. She will sort you out.
Little William reloaded!
In January 2016, I was driving back from a tiny little vineyard in the Koue Bokkeveld (Ceres Plateau). Cruising along at the 100km/h speed limit, I came to a very winding stretch of road leading towards the Witzenberg pass. Suddenly, for a split second, I thought I saw something in the middle of the road. I had just come through a super sharp bend and had to jump on the brakes with both feet. When I finally got my 470 000-km-on-the-clock Toyota to stop, there, on the white line in the middle of the road, stood a little blonde boy. I guessed him around a year and a half old. He was in his nappies and had a white T-shirt on, perfectly camouflaged on the white line. Unsure of what to do once I’d taken him out of the road, I thought it a good plan to prompt him and see which direction he takes off in (with myself of course right behind).
About 200 meters further along the road he (we) crossed a little bridge heading towards the other side of the canal. He turned up a dirt road which led to a farmhouse about 300 meters up a hill. Keeping up to his snail-like pace, we arrived at the house more or less 10 minutes later (in my experience with farm dogs, it wouldn’t have been wise to carry him). When the gardener saw us approaching, he called out to a woman at the house and judging by her reaction, she must’ve been his mom and he must’ve been missing for a while.
It was a bit of an emotional and chaotic environment so, knowing he was safe, I just turned around and left without introducing myself.
So each time I present a tasting with Little William wine as part of the line-up, I get the same question: “Why is it called, Little William?”, followed almost without fail by: “What does the family have to say about you calling a wine, Little William?” My answer is always the same: “I never went back, they don’t even know the wine exists. But I am convinced there will be this one day where I’d be sitting at some local bar in Knysna, drinking a beer all by myself when the young guy next to me turns to me and introduces himself as William from Ceres.” And I’ll be able to tell him: “Eendag, lank, lank gelede het hierdie oom jou lewe gered!”
For 4 years I had the privilege of telling the story of little William. Until last year. When Chapter 2 happened.
In November, we took our youngest son for a minor operation at Panorama Mediclinic, Tygerberg, Cape Town. The lady at reception looked at us with a puzzled look on her face. We later learnt that there had been a mistake on the paperwork and they were under the impression that he was an adult. They had subsequently booked him into an adult ward. The man next to him had drunk a cup of coffee at 6:00am that morning with milk in. His operation therefore had to be postponed and he obviously missed his theatre time slot. He had to wait almost the whole day for the next slot. He and Sebastian eventually left for the theatre at more or less the same time. I went to get us a cup of coffee, and as she always does, Aneen started making conversation with the milk-in-the-coffee guy’s wife. On my return Aneen said: ”They are from Ceres, tell her the little William story.” I cringed, thinking: “Why would I do that??” I tried to let her comment slide and filled the awkward silence with useless words. We carried on with the small talk and she ended up telling us that she is a vet and her husband is a farmer. “Where do you farm in Ceres?”, I asked. “In the Witzenberg mountains, on a farm called Blah-blah-blah”, she answered.
And, as you’ve probably guessed by now, that was the name of the farm where I dropped little William that morning. It started dawning on me that it might be my Knysna-bar-thing moment happening in a totally bizarre, different way. “Do you have a son called William?” I asked. “No”, she replied, “but my nephew is called William and they live on the same farm, in the house next to the road.” We did the sums and he would’ve been exactly 1 and a half years at the time. So it turns out it wasn’t a beer-in-hand pub in Knysna, but a coffee-in-hand hospital in Cape Town. I should’ve listened to Aneen right from the start… so I told her the whole story and she phoned her sister-in-law. “Did you ever lose William on the farm?” she asked (I don’t think that’s the type of story you volunteer to tell your extended family if not prompted). “Yes”, she said. “There was this one day…”
PS: This incident made me think about everyone’s life stories. I’m convinced that these kind of things happen to everyone. The difference is that I just happened to call a wine Little William, and I have a reason to re-tell this story. If I didn’t, I would’ve possibly only re-told the story once or twice, but I can imagine how the finer details could’ve gotten lost between profit margins and VAT. I have a responsibility to convey the story in an honest and factual way. You know how easily a story gets blurry. So each time I drive the road, I recheck my facts: Where exactly did William stand? Distances? The name of the farm? The story then became part of our story. And that day when the lady mentioned Ceres, the first thing Aneen thought about was the boy in the road.