The Zoo Biscuits: A Group Of Winemakers (Not Children’s Cookies) Defining The New South Africa

fullsizerender-1In the February issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine, I have a piece about a group of micro-négociants (meaning, they purchase fruit instead of owning vineyards, but not at a massive scale) calling themselves the “Zoo Biscuits,” which is what South Africans call animal crackers. South Africa’s wine industry goes back to the 16th century, but it’s only since the end of formal Apartheid that winemakers have been able to travel and do international business, so it’s an exciting time for that industry at this very moment. The Zoo Biscuits, who number about ten different winemakers who are also good friends–some even went to college together and were roommates there–are sourcing grapes from some of the country’s cooler vineyard sites, and they have a non-interventionist approach that results in deliciously drinkable wines. They are also making an effort to show younger generations of drinkers that wine can be cool, fun, approachable, and also really good. W&S is only in print, so grab an issue at your local bookseller, or at Whole Foods. Print’s not dead! Cheers!

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A Young Importer Who’s Moving South African Wine Forward

IMG_7910Not sure if many of you know this but, before I wrote about wine and food, I was an aspiring anthropologist! Made it through a master’s and got reeeeeally close to going on to PhD. I would have one day maybe taught your kids about Levi-Strauss and cultural relativity! Instead, maybe I’ll teach them about French wine and cheese and food journalism. Not bad, eh?

As an anthropology student, I was really interested in sub-Saharan Africa, and had the opportunity to travel twice to South Africa–once to Johannesburg, and once to Cape Town. South Africa is an intense place with an intense history, as well as vibrant culture in terms of art, food, and theater, and incredible natural beauty, too. 

Wine may be one of the ways that South Africa is moving forward, finding ways to deal with the deep injustices that were structurally ingrained in its makeup as a country, and making use of its incredible natural abundance and beauty. There has been quite a bit of excitement of late in the wine world about South Africa. I profiled a young importer named Mika Bulmash who is a great example of someone combining her passion for great, hand-made wine with a social entrepreneur’s skillset. Bulmash imports two wine labels from Ntsiki Biyela, who became South Africa’s first black female winemaker–and they are very good wines with a lot of personality and finesse. I’ve been tasting a wide range of South African wines recently, and some of them have been surprisingly good–such as a stunning Syrah that was meaty yet lithe and fragrant, from Mullineaux, and a great biodynamic Pinotage that drank almost like a natural French wine, from Lammershoek.

Read my profile of Mika Bulmash and her importing company for Vine Pair, here