Talking To Andrea Mullineux of Mullineux Wines

Words: Jess Spiro

Andrea Mullineux, while one of South Africa’s greatest treasures, is not actually South African. Shocker, we know. Having grown up in San Francisco, and studying winemaking in California, she came to South Africa and spent 3 months at Waterford. In 2007, she started Mullineux wines with her husband, Chris, and then evolved the company into Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines. Mullineux is the family based label and they are working on a new brand, based at the Leeu Estates in Franschhoek, expected to be released next year. Mullineux produces some of the country’s most exciting wine, so regardless of where Andrea comes from, we’re happy she’s here to stay. We sat down with her for a few minutes to chat about her winemaking story, as well as what life is like for female winemakers.

Where did winemaking start for you?

Andrea Mullineux: I was 17 when I realised that I wanted to be a winemaker. I thought it was the perfect combination of art and science, so I went to study Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis in California. I quickly started working in various capacities in the wine business and by the time I finished my degree, I felt quite well rounded.

What is it like being a female winemaker? Is it quite a male-dominated industry or are there more women in it than we would think?

Andrea Mullineux: The wine industry is indeed quite male dominated, but I was always a bit of a tomboy when it came to ‘keeping up with the guys’ in sports and science and now, in the winery. I spent years trying to prove that I could be just as strong when it came to lifting barrels or shovelling out wine tanks. The most important thing for a winemaker is to have is a good palate, but a little bit of brawn is very useful. I love being a female winemaker and express my femininity outside of the cellar.

If you weren’t a winemaker, what would you like to be?

Andrea Mullineux: I think I would always utilise my creative capabilities and would be involved is some type of design work or hand crafting something.

What is the most challenging aspect of making wine?

Andrea Mullineux: The most challenging aspect of making wine is sticking to your gut instinct and not being swayed by other people or wines. The best wines are the most honest wines. To maintain character in your wine, it must be from your own heart, head and gut.

When is your best time of year in the cellar?

Andrea Mullineux: I LOVE harvest. The energy is amazing. We work hard but have amazing meals and wines together over the weekend. The days are too short with my children during those months, but we try to include them when we can.

If you could make wine anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Andrea Mullineux: I love making wine in South Africa because it presented me with opportunities that I don’t think are as easily available anywhere else. Together with my husband, we were able to find superior vineyards that were not already being utilised and we were able to obtain the capital needed to start a business from scratch in South Africa.

Best advice you have received as a winemaker?

Andrea Mullineux: My husband is always telling me not to stress so much and that everything is going to be okay. If I’ve paid enough attention to something leading up to that moment, it usually is!

Which is your favourite grape variety to work with and why?

Andrea Mullineux: I love working with Syrah. It is so approachable, yet serious and goes SO well with many dishes.

Which grape variety has given you the most grey hairs and why?

Andrea Mullineux: I don’t work with those (laughs).

What excites you most about the wine industry in South Africa today?

Andrea Mullineux: The most exciting thing about the wine industry today is the fact that wine quality is on an exponential curve up and the world is noticing! When I do marketing trips, people are SO excited to taste South African wine – now more than ever.

When you are not enjoying your own wine, what wine would you choose to drink?

Andrea Mullineux: I love drinking textured, flinty Chardonnays like Paul Cluver or fragrant, but structured reds, like AA Badenhorst.

What would your perfect food and wine pairing be?

Andrea Mullineux: Lamb and Syrah are a match made in heaven (don’t forget the rosemary and garlic on the meat)!

What advice would you give to young female winemakers starting out?

Andrea Mullineux: Winemaking offers a career that allows you to nurture something from the moment it is born until it is mature and ready to drink. There are a lot of similarities with raising a family and I feel that women naturally have that instinct. So I say to women winemakers starting out, pay attention to detail, but use your gut instinct to raise the wine into the best possible.

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