SA Wine Trailblazer: Jolandie Fouché

Some days I am more wolf than woman, and I am still learning how to stop apologising for my wild. This quote, penned by poet Nikita Gill, was sent one day to Jolandie Fouché by her husband, Gustav. “I felt really seen in that moment,” shared the founder and winemaker of Wolf & Woman Wines.

The words spurred on this growing sense that she needed to be free in order to pursue her own thing. This instinct was further amplified on the birth to her son; she already had a two-year-old daughter and the pressures of family life combined with working to set hours was mounting. At the time she was the full-time winemaker at Kloovenburg Wine & Olive Estate.

Then while at the airport one day, she saw the book Women who run with the wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. She immediately thought of the quote her husband had sent her. After reading book she felt ‘inspired, empowered and able to dream bigger and wilder than ever before’.

Interpreting the message of the book into winemaking she said: “Making wine, much like creating visual art, is an emotional journey. By crafting a wine that tells their personal story, a winemaker invites you to take a glimpse at the world in the way they see, smell, and taste it themselves – filling a bottle with complex nuances and energies that provide a sensory snapshot of how they encounter this great, wild world.”

Fouché left Kloovenburg at the end of the 2020 harvest – and went into the wild. Though not without a foundation, she had actually already begun her own label Wolf & Woman in 2018. But in order to do so, a few conditions to make the wines were handed down from her then employer. One of which was, serendipitously, that she couldn’t make categories being produced by them. This opened the door for her to focus on South Africa’s most emblematic cultivars: chenin and pinotage.

She started out small with just 1800 bottles. The debut attracted notice from some of the world’s top critics. Tim Atkin MW hailed the Chenin 2018 as his ‘White Wine Discovery of the Year’ in the South Africa 2019 Special Report, and Jancis Robinson MW named the 2019 as one of her ‘Chenin Champions’ in the Financial Times.

Old Vine Project (OVP) certified the Chenin Blanc is a blend of grapes from three different dryland bushvine sites. Two are in the Paardeberg rooted in granitic soil, planted in 1971 and 1980, respectively. The third, planted in 1981, is situated north of the town of Malmesbury in iron-rich soils.

Also now bearing the OVP seal is the Pinotage. From the inaugural vintage the grapes have come from a dryland bushvine site planted in 1973. When first making it in 2018, having never made a pinotage before, Fouché had a stylistic decision to make. Immediately she was drawn to the fresher, new wave examples, such as those hailed by Swartland contemporaries David & Nadia.

“You can’t hide your DNA,” Fouché emphasised on this point. “Pinotage’s parents are pinot noir and cinsault, and both make relatively lighter, fresher styles of wines. I can never understand why you would mould it in a different way, when the DNA is clearly something else!

“That being said, if you want to challenge yourself, make a pinotage,” she admitted. “Luckily I love a challenge. It’s by far the most difficult wine for me to produce, it’s wild and wonderful at the same time. It keeps you humble.

Fouché says when it comes to the winemaking, she goes completely minimalistic: ‘no new oak, no additions; I work with the naked truth.’

This hands-off approach has also seen the critics enamoured . On the 2019 vintage wrote Jancis Robinson MW ‘Great to see Pinotage being taken seriously by a new-waver. Transparent crimson. Lifted cranberry nose that’s full of savour and character and seems on another planet from traditional Pinotage. Really juicy with raspberry fruit. With its crackling texture and fragrance, it almost reminds me of a Loire Cabernet Franc, even though there is no reason whatsoever why it should. Packed with flavour not alcohol. Well done’.

Decanter scored the 2020 vintage a highly covetable 95. Also on the 2020 Tim Atkin MW bestowed an esteemed 94-points.

From the 2020 vintage a Grenache Blanc and Grenache Rosé were added to the range, and in 2021, a Syrah. She sources fruit from sites across the Cape; on the whole preferring granitic soils. The vinification and maturation happens at Yellowwood Farm, located just outside the town of Riebeek-Kasteel in the Swartland. She describes her wines as ‘honest and sincere’ and ‘that tell the stories of their seasons.’

Fouché has just released her 2021 wines, her first completely solo vintage, which she fondly dubs ‘The Wolf Pack’.  To date her production now totals 10 500 bottles.

“The reaction so far has been incredible,” she says on the release. “2021 was a great vintage overall, but to see how it shaped up in the bottle, you can’t help but feel a sense of pride.”

Especially considering during this period she had a 4-week-old baby to care for. “There was a time when I didn’t know how we were going to get the wines in bottle, with all the hormones, emotions and blurry days – so I am extra proud of the 2021 vintage.”

I found her today at her holding warehouse packing orders going to Sweden. “I am a one-woman band,” she contended. “So I mostly pack my orders myself to ensure they’re correct and to a certain standard of quality.

“My parents taught me about hard work: you start from the bottom with a love for what you do, knowing that failure is not an option.”

No stranger to its granitic slopes Fouché was raised in the Swartland’s farmlands. Her open-skied childhood saw her drawn to the outdoors and in particular, that magic alchemy of science and nature that is wine. Pursuing this passion she completed a B. Agric degree at Elsenburg, augmenting this training by working harvests in Australia and California.

What’s next for this wild woman? Boxes neatly stacked and bound for Europe, she mused: “to continue working closely with the growers of the vineyards I source from, to see where we can improve on quality and sustainability.

“The most important thing to me though is to spend as much time with my family as possible. That’s where I get my fuel from.”


- Blog by Malu Lambert