So the Swartland Revolution is no more. After six events, this remarkable wine festival has called it a day. It seems sad, but it’s a wise and brave decision. Everything has its time, and just as there is a time for beginnings, there is a time for endings. It takes courage to end something: it’s so much easier just to keep going, and only finish when you are forced to. But that’s rarely the best option.
I attended only once, back in 2011. It was superb, and everything was still fresh and vibrant. The Swartland really was where it was happening in South Africa at the time. Now though, there’s a vibrant wine scene drawing on vineyard sources throughout the Cape winelands. Many of the exciting young winemakers are now sourcing grapes from interesting vineyards across a range of regions.
So to carry on directing all this attention just to the Swartland seems a bit narrow. There’s still a lot of interesting stuff taking place in the region, for sure, but it’s no longer the epicentre of interesting South African wine that it once was. You can be young and hipster and source your grapes from Stellenbosch, now, and people will still talk to you.
Change. It can seem threatening and dangerous. Our natural tendency is to avoid it. But in wine as in life, you can’t stop time and preserve things just as they are. Time always progresses, and there are seasons and rhythms, and we have to adapt and progress. We can’t stand still, even if we’d quite like to stop the ride and get off for a bit.
It’s hard to underestimate the importance of the Swartland Revolution (and the associated producer’s association, the Swartland Independent), for the impact that they’ve had on South Africa’s fine wine dimension. They have provided a narrative theme around which lots of interesting, risk-taking, smart winegrowers have gathered. And the energy and creativity in the region has influenced others further afield.
Six years ago many of the Swartland guys were young. Now they’re older. So there remains the possibility that the real reason they pulled the plug on the revolution is that they can’t take those late nights anymore. As an international observer of what’s going on in the South African wine scene, I think they made a good call. There’s never been more great, interesting wine being made in South Africa, and what the Swartland guys have started has now really spread. I’m all for the contagion of interesting wine.