Faith, hope and belief in a bottle of silver-gold sunshine.
“I named my wine range after my mother, her name was Tembela,” says rising star Banele Vakele. We’re enjoying dinner at The Pot Luck Club with his UK importer, Swig. Vakele has just come back from a trip to London, where he visited prospective buyers and hosted tastings, one at the hallowed ground of 67 Pall Mall, and another as part of an exciting collaboration at the iconic Tate Modern gallery.
Faith, hope and belief
For the A World in Common exhibition at the Tate, Vakele was tasked with the creation of a syrah and chenin, featuring labels by artist Billie Zangewa, which were poured at the opening and consequent tastings. As an artist Zangewa celebrates themes that are close to Vakele’s heart. The Malawian/South African artist handsews silk tapestries depicting scenes of everyday life, from motherhood, the family, the dinner table, and black femininity.
“Tembela means faith, hope and belief,” says Vakele showing the table the wines. The labels are a tribute to his late mother who passed away in 2020 from cancer. Vakele shares how he was actually in the verdelho vineyard when he got the devastating call. On the label two women carry oak barrels on their heads, a traditional isiXhosa custom for transporting goods.
While Tembela Wines (now in its third vintage) features a verdelho and a syrah, for his day job Vakele is also the assistant winemaker for the acclaimed Duncan Savage. Initially wine wasn’t anywhere near his radar. Born in the Eastern Cape, his family relocated to Cape Town while he was still a young boy, setting up home in Khayelitsha. A standout student he earned a scholarship to go to a high school in Constantia. It was here, daydreaming while seeing the vines and the activity around them, that wine suddenly became a viable career option.
Grown in Stellenbosch
Fast-forward to Elsenburg in 2015 where Vakele earned a B.Agric degree. It was also where he was recruited for the prestigious Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé Programme, a three-year internship that sees young talent being mentored by the legends of the industry.
For the Tembela wines, the syrah comes from a vineyard in the Polkadraai Hills (a ward fast-becoming renowned for fine examples of the grape); the verdelho likewise comes from a special Stellenbosch site.
“Speaking of the faith part,” says Vakele, topping off our glasses, “my mother had faith in me to actually go and study winemaking. It wasn’t easy for her to allow me to study to make alcohol. She’d rather I’d studied engineering,” he says with a smile. “I’m very grateful for her support in this adventure.”
Tembela Verdelho 2022
This wine makes you think of sunshine, the early morning kind that slices through the trees, washing the world around you in silver-gold light. Fresh green aromatics: limes, figs, nettles, fynbos rise up. There’s a current of stone fruit too, peaches, pears. The wine spent 13 months in an old 600-litre barrel, the neutral vessel shaping the curves of the grape’s naturally high acidity. On the palate the fruit is pure yet weighted, sewn in place by a steely-lime green acid as the fruit relaxes and unwinds to pineapple on the finish.
Pair it with grilled tuna, pork chops and creamy pasta dishes.
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