Craig Hawkins the winemaker at Testalonga is in a pretty brilliant place right now, he’s just released his new vintage to the world!! He and (wife) Carla are now ensconced in Bandits Kloof in Piketberg, the northern reaches of the Swartland; He finally has a dedicated winery with plenty of space and a steady supply of excellent grapes from well-farmed vineyards. After years of experimentation, he has developed a style that he is comfortable, and succesful with, and with that he makes around 40,000 bottles, using a variety of grapes under two labels: Testalonga El Bandito and Baby Bandito.
Craig has never been part of the mainstream wine world, even in Swartland, but that is because he is not trying to be someone else. He has a clear idea of what he wants to do and the path he wants to take, which is to make wines for his own satisfaction and to his own taste. It is important to note that as his own taste has evolved so has the style of the wines. His independent and uncompromising approach has not always endeared him to South African authorities and he has been shunned by various critics and wine writers. Hence the name Testalonga El Bandito. Testalonga was the nickname of an old Italian guy who made his white wines like red wines. Craig asked him via a friend whether he could use the name for his labels and he laughed and gave his assent. Testalonga is also the name of a bandit from Sicily.
Craig and Carla are now exporting to 29 different countries, most of which are in Europe, with here in the UK and Japan being the largest individual markets. Their influx of natural winemaking is really starting to cause a stir and generate a mass following worldwide, their winemaking is both unique and valuable to the Winelands of Swartland. Their wines are produced on incredibly small quantities, so we feel very lucky to be able to stock them, but don’t expect them to hang around long! In the 2017 vintage, they made just 24 bottles of the El Bandito Mangaliza which as you can imagine wasn’t available for export! These tiny quantities keep the wines of Testalonga rare, exclusive and exciting!
All the Testalonga wines are natural in both the winemaking perspective and in their modern presence. They are all made from organically grown grapes, which is something you don’t see a whole lot of from surrounding winemakers in the area.
Like us, Craig is a firm supporter of the natural wine movement – he mentioned in a comment late last year “You can say what you like about natural wines – you immediately know what you’re getting. Commercial winemaking techniques can be used to hide bad qualities in your vineyards, whereas natural winemaking exposes poorer sites,”.
They started making wine with a barrel or two, now they have a few more… The portfolio includes Chenin (both skin contact and not), Carignan, Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, harslevelü, Muscat, Colombard and even some Pinotage. At Pull The Cork, we have taken on what we believe to be the best bottles of the vineyard;
The Testalonga Keep On Punching Chenin vines were planted in 1972, a bush vine (un-trellised), farmed organically. This is a block they have worked with for some time (at previous jobs) and it always gives very small clusters that are full of concentration and high natural acidity. The soil is very exposed (lots of rocks) and this comes through in the wines backbone. The Testalonga Keep On Punching is a pure wine, with a nice weight the wine has aromas of freshly sliced pear, apple and white peach plus potpourri and a touch of earthiness. On the palate, you’ll find a freshly opened box of Maldon sea salt, but it’s light and extremely flavourful and full of zipping and zing.
El Bandito The Dark Side Syrah is produced on Decomposed Granite, which is South-East facing, 200m above sea level, from the Paardeberg. The wine itself has aromas of Violets, tapenade and black cherry which all interplay on the nose. Deep black cherry and juicy plum flavours mesh with violets and cool strawberry on the palate. It has the freshness and elegance found in Burgundy with the sturdiness of Syrah. The flavours are elegant, long, sweet and refreshing. El Bandito The Dark Side Syrah pairs perfectly with red meats or mature and hard cheeses.
The Chenin vines for the El Bandito Cortez were planted in 1972, dryland bush vine (un-trellised), farmed organically. The vineyard is a special one as it has been farmed organically since 2001 and every year, good or bad, gives a tension sometimes not as present in their other wines. This is possibly due to the high percentage of quartz/silica in the soil. Testalonga El Bandito Cortez is subtle, fresh and pure. Fine, lacy acid line with a moreish, chalky texture. It pairs perfectly with freshwater fish or calamari.
The result of the I Wish I Was A Ninja Pet Nat is a bristling brilliant pet nat with an acidity of 8.9 and a residual of 23 g/l. It is aromatic and laser-bright, like lemonade for grown-ups. A fresh, bright pet nat with a taste reminiscent of the freshest apples and peaches. Off-dry and far too smashable, it’s “like lemonade for grown-ups” and insanely tasty – from one of South Africa’s most exciting winemakers. Pair with: Almost anything! Perfect for your pool-side party in South Africa and the one day of summer in the UK. (One day!!)
You can purchase these incredibly diverse Testalonga wines through Pull The Cork in cases of 6x75cl – we can deliver them anywhere in the UK, the surrounding islands, Scotland and the highlands and Europe (just email us for a quote).