Andrea Mullineux, co-owner and winemaker at the highly successful South African company Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, was recently named Wine Enthusiast’s Winemaker of the Year. This is a first-ever win for a South African winemaker and makes her only the third female winner in the 17-year history of the awards.
With brands such as Mullineux based in the Swartland region at Roundstone Farm, a yet-to-be-released project based at the Leeu Estate in Franschhoek and a tiny California brand, Fog Monster Wines, Andrea, who is also a member of the respected Cape Winemakers Guild, needs no introduction to the wine industry.
Growing up, wine was an important part of family meals, she says. “We always gathered around the dinner table, sharing stories, enjoying wholesome food and of course, sharing wine.”
Andrea grew up near San Francisco, California. The high school she attended instilled in her a lifelong love of science and art, which were also her parents’ backgrounds. “I knew then already I wanted to go to the University of California, Davis, to further my studies in wine.”
For Andrea, who has the rare ability to express a brand identity and individual personality in her wines, winemaking was a natural choice. “Wine is the perfect combination of science and art. It also involves people, food and culture. Wine really ticks all the boxes of the things I love.”
American publication Wine Enthusiast’s Winemaker of the Year award pays tribute to people and companies that have not only achieved success in their diverse and dynamic industries, but have made a meaningful impact on the way in which wine is marketed, perceived and enjoyed around the globe, making this prestigious title is an undisputed feather in Andrea’s cap.
“I’m truly humbled to be among a list of such talented winners and nominees, both past and present, many of whom have been my inspiration and mentors,” Andrea says. “I see this honour not only as an accolade for the wines I create alongside a fabulous team, but also as recognition for the exciting wines and regions of South Africa that are still being discovered and applauded by international wine professionals and consumers alike.
“South African wines of great quality are still relatively new to people both locally and internationally and this award will help to create awareness about the quality of South African wines and that they are right up there with some of the best in the world.”
Since the launch of the Mullineux brand in 2007, Andrea, along with her cofounder and husband Chris, has notched up 18 five-star wine ratings in Platter’s South African Wine Guide. Mullineux was also named Winery of the Year in 2014 and 2016. Today Andrea produces a select range of handcrafted wines from the Granite, Schist, Quartz and Iron-based soils of the Swartland and a new range of wines from old vineyards in other regions for the new brand.
Why South African wine?
I was intrigued by South Africa because even though it has a long winemaking history, the exponential improvement in its wine quality on the world stage is more recent. In 2004, when I first came to South Africa, the wines were of great quality, but there was also space to grow as an independent winemaker and do your own thing. The opportunities to make high-end South African wine from scratch were greater here than many other more established places.
What makes you successful as a winemaker?
I never compromise on quality and that comes down to attention to detail. A small slip-up early on in the winemaking process can end up changing the final product. Conversely, a beautifully finished wine can easily lose its greatness by being bottled incorrectly. It’s important to never let your guard down.
What are you currently working on?
Besides the familiar Mullineux wines from the Swartland, we’ve been working on an entirely new wine project since 2013 which we’ll release in the first half of next year. This is very exciting for us because we approached the project from a different wine angle and the new wines will tell a different story. The home of the new brand is based at the Leeu Estate in Franschhoek and the Mullineux brand remains in the Swartland.
Any other innovations in the offing?
We’re always thinking about ways to improve. The best way to do that is through experimentation. We’re constantly looking at new varieties and new vineyards to make excellent quality wine. If they work, we incorporate them into our blend.
What do you do when you’re not making wine?
I love to cook for my family and entertain guests on the farm.
Who are your wine mentors and why?
In South Africa, Norma Ratcliffe was an amazing inspiration as an independent female winemaker who made a huge impact on quality South African wine. Kevin Arnold at Waterford was the first South African winemaker to take me in as an intern and I definitely owe my love of the South African wine industry to him.
Guilty pleasures in life?
Nutella on croissants.
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