Matthew Freemantle and team get to taste new wines coming out of South Africa
Matthew Freemantle and team get to taste new wines coming out of South Africa
IndependenceIssue 3 2021Quick Read

Vine Enthusiasts

Plain, poppy and everything bagels are the order of the day, fuelling freelancers and office workers along Cape Town’s Bree street. But at dusk, the scribbly neon sign flickers on and Max Bagels becomes Leo’s, a wine bar favouring – and savouring – the winelands’ independent producers.

The neon sign flickers on and Max Bagels becomes Leo's
The neon sign flickers on and Max Bagels becomes Leo's
Leo's favours independent winemakers
Leo's favours independent winemakers

Max Bagels opened in 2014 in a tiny shop in the CBD. It’s an unlikely place for a wine bar, where you’re almost guaranteed not to get a seat but locals don’t seem to mind. The wine that owner, chef and entrepreneur, Matthew Freemantle, uncorks probably wouldn’t be found at more mainstream establishments. Produced by a new wave of winemakers, it’s categorised as ‘low intervention’. We asked Matthew about what we’d find behind the counter. 

How do you make your wine selections?

The selection is the fun part for me. I get to constantly taste so many of the new wines being made in South Africa and we make a list from that. It’s a small list so there’s a lot of rotation and experimentation. You could say I’m the most disloyal owner out there – but if you watch the list over the course of a year, you’ll see a lot of familiar names crop up often. We do have our favourite producers. But while what I and my staff think of a wine is part of the vetting process, the true gauge includes what our patrons think, so we often take a punt on a wine that we’re interested in and see how it goes down.

You're almost guaranteed not to get a seat
You're almost guaranteed not to get a seat

Why low intervention wines and independent producers?

We prefer a fresher style of wine made with fewer additions in the cellar. Generally speaking, this means a brighter and less jammy fruit profile and lower levels of alcohol. This low intervention approach is really widespread now, so it doesn’t rule out as many producers as you’d think. We lean towards growers who are farming regeneratively and winemakers who don’t tinker with the wines too much, rather letting the vineyard sites speak distinctly for themselves. Low intervention is the best of a bad bunch of ways to describe this style of winemaking, because the more naturally one farms and vinifies, the trickier and more laborious it can be to get right. There’s a lot of intervention, just less manipulation.

Are low intervention wines, or natural wines, more sustainable?

In terms of their natural legacy, yes, because producers working this way are also generally farming with conscious effort given to replenishing the soil they use to grow and nurture their vines. Natural wine, for example, has to be farmed organically or biodynamically, which means no pesticides or herbicides are used in the vineyards. Think of natural wines in the same way you would organic vegetables. Low intervention can be seen as ‘natural leaning’ while not being certifiably organic. These sorts of wines are also, by and large, lower in sulphites, which some consumers like. A lot is made of the sulphite thing but there are more sulphites in a piece of dried fruit than a glass of wine – but that’s a whole other can of worms.

Visit Leo’s. 

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