Inspired by a pandemic and the subsequent prohibition installed by the State at the start of South Africa’s national lockdown, Smokkelman was born, delivering a white and a red blend that’s as delicious to drink as each new batch is to explore.
But first the backstory… Speaking on behalf of its creator, Jozua Joubert – curator, sommelier and Somm & Co partner, Barry Scholfield is unapologetic in explaining the wine’s intent.
“The idea is - I like affordable wine,” the highly accredited and respected wine waiter candidly admits. “I remember being over in Italy and sitting down with a bunch of car guards on their break, and just smashing a bottle of Dolcetto in the parking lot. That got me thinking that South Africa doesn’t do smashable wine particularly well anymore. We’ve lost approachable wine, in the sense that Tassenberg used to be good, quaffable and affordable. It’s light, it’s fresh, there’s no oak in it, so just smash the bloody thing!”
Nowadays it’s paradoxical because wine is something that should be enjoyed every day. You sit down, you have a meal, you have a glass of wine. You don’t have to have any more than that to make it an occasion.
“We want to step back into that market where quality, easy-drinking wine can be embraced once more,” Barry says. Selling at R110 a bottle, Smokkelman is perhaps in that upper end, a little more aspirational than your R75 bottle of wine. “This is more your once-a-week wine, not necessarily your everyday staple,” he concurs.
“It intends drawing you in, have you experience something special, limited, and spike your curiosity and palate to explore more from where Smokkelman comes from.”
The other aspiration with Smokkelman is to make wine ‘cool’ again. “Making wine “cool” is difficult because a lot of people try, but all that they typically land up doing is making it cheaply,” Barry explains. “The ‘Afrikaansness’ of it is another aspect we want to celebrate with Smokkelman. I think there is a progressive Afrikaner culture, away from the narrow-minded, conservative one I grew up in. In my experience now, especially in and around Stellenbosch where Smokkelman wines are produced, there’s a generation who is fiercely patriotic about their language and who would appreciate a wine that’s in Afrikaans. I figure if the French and Italians have us deciphering their labels, let’s give them one of ours,” Barry teases.
The actual wine came in two parts, Jozua, the winemaker, had Smokkelman parked for a while after initially being inspired by an American wine with a French label that spoke about a ‘pusher’ or smuggler. “What it was, was a Shiraz that was very aromatic and perfumed and so they named the wine The Herb Smuggler,” Barry shares. “Jozua worked for the winery in the US, and he always liked the branding and the story behind the wine, so when he came back to South Africa, he designed the label and then went on the hunt to find what to attach it to. It was always intended to be made up of different parts hustled here and there and then brought together in the cellar.”
Collectively compromised due to our entire industry and value-chain being burdened by draconian, ill thought through laws, Barry sought to take back the power by whatever means he had at his disposal.
Like many ideas, the dream was not realised until Jozua showed Barry the label and that inspired him to bring it to bottle, especially with what we all experienced in 2020, prohibition-wise. “This was the middle of hard lockdown,” Barry recalls. “We couldn’t move wine, never mind sell it, and so I thought that it was the perfect time to release it.”
Luckily, there were plenty of buyers willing to buy-now-deliver-later. So, with a willing buyer, he needed to find an equally willing, cash-strapped, individual to help Smokkelman take flight. That person turned out to be Marieul, unemployed at the time and willing to bend the rules for a small wage. “Today he’s my full-time mixologist, host and trainee sommelier at Karibib Wine Craft,” Barry jokes with a brazen smile. “I never knew you could fit 43 cases of wine into a Mazda 3!”
Marieul embodied Smokkelman and today the brand is a drinking reality. As for the rest, that will reveal itself when you embibe.
There will only ever be two lines.
Smokkelman White is currently on Batch #3
Pale yellow like the faded police vans he evaded in his youth. With aromas reminiscent of poaching orchard fruit on a warm summer's afternoon. Ripe pear, quince, and green apple give way to fynbos-esque white flowers and a faint hint of gunsmoke before giving way to a palate of juicy white fruit with a slightly waxy herbal finish.
The Smokkelman Red is on Batch #5Bright red, like a prime baboon matriarch's bottom, thanks to a healthy wallop of Cinsaut. With aromas reminiscent of smuggling those pink lekkertjies and wine gums in your Space Case under an old school bench. Upfront aromas of strawberry, rosewater, red- and blackcurrant all wrapped in a bouquet of pencil shavings, cedarwood, crumpled up crib-notes, and something slightly musky, unidentifiable, but strangely satisfying.