SAVAGE. What a great name that is. It conjures up thoughts of the harsh and unrestrained. Of complete carnage and brutal, ferocious wild beasts. Like the dude above.
All the Wine: “Your name and brand... It’s kind of an oxymoron, right?”
Duncan Savage: “Who are you calling a moron?”
That exchange didn’t happen. But it should have. Partly because that’s an underutilized gag, but also, because “savage” is everything that Duncan and his wines are not. And on the subject of paradoxes he is proving to be a master. Let’s begin with his new space. You might reasonably expect to walk out of the cellar and be surrounded by rolling hills, tweeting birds and panoramic views. Well, let’s have a quick look:
His is not your typical “wine estate”, and it’s so much better for it. Erstwhile known as Savage City Cellar, this space is in the heart of Salt River Industria. It’s surrounded by street vendors repairing shoes, warehouses stocking furniture and hipsters brewing beers. You can practically smell their beards. There’s a machine running in the premises above that makes you feel like you’re about to take off. In a washing machine. It’s perfect. In that as much as it feels different, it also feels exciting.
But inside, it’s a veritable sanctuary from this hive of city activity. Amidst the chaos that surrounds it, there is order. And the wines are these harmonious, delicate, Fibonacci-esque masterpieces.
Duncan is not interested in artifice. He probably doesn’t own a Mac, definitely doesn’t own a suit, and is about as pretentious as the outside of his new cellar. He has the sort of vibe that’s not hard to get behind – easy-going, open and uncomplicated. He just wants to make fantastic wines and not be a knob.
You’re unlikely to catch him ruminating on the tasting notes of a critic, or contemplating the ambiguities of phenolic versus sugar ripeness. He doesn’t care for showboating. Which is ironic, because the perfect illustration of this are two wines called the Love Boat - a red and a white blend that he and Adi Badenhorst have just produced for the Cape Winemaker's Guild. They show off the best of both Adi and Duncan and are impeccably well judged. Surely, you would imagine, there was deliberation over the final blends?
“Ja, umm no, it was a pretty loose affair. We didn’t think the Guild would allow us to make a wine together. But we’d gone on this European trip, slept together*, and decided to do this. So I called Adi in January, told him to send me a white and a red. Choose your best stuff and send me a barrel of each. The next day a truck pulled in with two barrels. I tasted them, and they were great. I had my barrels and chucked them in together. That’s about it really”.
Sensational. I tried to get Adi to corroborate the story, but he doesn’t recall sending Duncan anything. Either way, the resulting wines were without question two of the finest at the 2017 CWG Showcase. The white is a personal favourite: Acidity and freshness from the Sauvignon Blanc. Body, fruit and opulence from the Swartland varietals. Magic. It tastes like what would happen if Adi and Duncan made a white blend together. It will deservedly fetch big money at the auction in September.
As for Duncan’s solo label, it was the Savage White 2014 that first alerted me to his world outside of Cape Point Vineyards. Since then, Savage Red, Follow the Line, Are We There Yet, Girl Next Door and the new Thief in the Night make up the range. It’s hard to overstate how precise and delicate all of these wines are.
The only area where Duncan’s judgment can be called into question is in pricing. Many big names in the industry feel that his wines should be far more expensive. At an average of R250 a bottle, they’re not giving them away, but they all sell out immediately upon release. At such great value, I asked why he doesn’t charge more:
“The whole thing is working at the moment. They are premium wines, at value. It wouldn’t be fair to everyone who has supported me from day one to suddenly hike my prices. I’d rather sell out quickly, have all the wine go out and have people drink and enjoy it.”
While a phenomenal winemaker, Duncan’s not the sort of character whose ego requires that he have a wine at a ridiculous price. So really, if you manage to track down anything with "Savage" on the lable, know that it's worth considerably more than you are paying for it. Then don't think twice, and pay for it. As for what you can expect, I don’t want to give too much away. He’s produced typically outstanding wines this year. On account of the drought, the 2016’s are bigger then previous vintages, but again, the usual Savage precision ensures that everything is in its right place.
For Duncan, that place is an unassuming warehouse in the city.
*not in the Biblical sense. Allegedly.