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Painted Wolf Wines Turns 15!

That’s right – this month we are celebrating an incredible 15 years of Painted Wolf Wines! Not only are we offering you some of our wines at great prices so you can raise a glass with us, but we also sat down with the driving force behind the business, Jeremy and Emma Borg, to find out what’s on their mind as they reach this milestone. Read on to find the answers…and at the end you’ll find details of our birthday sale. 

How does it feel to be celebrating 15 years of Painted Wolf Wines?

Jeremy: I have to say it’s a mixed set of emotions. I’m enormously proud of what we’ve achieved, but I’m also slightly frustrated. When we conceived Painted Wolf Wines I thought it would be a much bigger business – my vision was for us to be the world’s leading conservation winery. I think it was probably a bit unrealistic……but having said that, we’ve achieved such a lot, and I’m particularly proud of what we’ve done given the limited resources we have had at our command. We have had numerous challenges along the way, and made some mistakes, some costly. Over the past 15 years we have made some cracking wines. What we are really staggered by is how the conservation ambitions Emma and I had have panned out. We had very little idea what the outcome might look like, and no idea of how to do any of this.  People just bought into our vision along the way, and we are blessed to have been assisted by so many people to make it a success.

Emma: Yes, it’s been an incredible journey. Some steep learning curves along the way being such a small team, and as Jeremy said, fantastic things that have happened that we just didn’t expect. There have been so many serendipitous events, such as our introduction to author and photographer Roger de la Harpe. He visited a wine store in Cape Town and just happened to be there when the very first order of Painted Wolf was being unpacked. He was writing a book on wild dogs, which led him to contact us, which eventually led to our relationship with the Endangered Wildlife Trust. A serendipitous set of events also led to our introduction to Tusk in UK.

I think about the amazing people who have supported us along this journey, who helped make it possible for us to follow this dream of making fantastic wines and funding conservation. Our company is all about partnerships and collaborations. We committed to fund conservation from the get-go, and we have raised well over R3m to date. We haven’t made a great deal of profit, although we have solid foundations  to build on.

Jeremy has had very complicated logistics making our wines in various locations over the years and has done a great job building strong relationships with the growers and winemaking teams. This has led to working with fantastic winemakers who he’s been able to develop and grow with.

It’s really been such an honour to work with the high profile conservation organisations TUSK and EWT, and to have seen these relationships grow, and knowing that our donations go to help fund incredible conservation work. For example, helping fund the recent reintroduction of wild dogs to Malawi after not having any for 25 years, I mean that’s just mind blowing really. It gives me goosepimples when I’m thinking about it!

Jeremy: What I would also like to comment on is that the success of an organisation is not entirely a monetary thing. They talk about a triple bottom line in business, and I think that two parts of our triple bottom line are rich and one is a bit impoverished! But I’m happy to take that.

Emma: Having such wonderful wines makes it a pleasure to go out into the market. The wines stand up for themselves and people we’ve spoken to over the years are intrigued by the labels and the Painted Wolf story.  Many of those people didn’t know what an African wild dog was. Let alone how endangered they are…

Jeremy: They don’t know what Roussanne is either! And how rare Roussanne is! I think we have built a bit of a reputation for taking the road less travelled. 

Are there any particular highlights that spring to mind?

Jeremy: There have been so many along the way.

From a wine making perspective receiving 91 points in the US magazine Wine Enthusiast for our first vintage of Pinotage set the tone for a string of critically acclaimed Pinotage wines.. …and then the very first den wine that we produced, the 2009 den Chenin Blanc, was picked by Oz Clarke as one of his top 250 wines of the year.

Being judged top producer at the Old Mutual trophy wine show in 2019, something never previously achieved by a small wine producer, was a huge deal for me.

I had an opportunity to help the EWT translocate some painted wolves. This was so exciting.

Oh wow, the recognition our support for Tusk has brought. We have twice been invited to functions hosted by Prince William, including an invitation to a dinner a  Windsor Castle. Not in our wildest dreams did we imagine we would be at Windsor Castle at a dinner hosted by Prince William!  It made us so proud to be in that big hall with the great and good of the conservation world! And our crazy meeting with Prince Harry.

It is so exciting working with Cole Du Plessis  and the African wild dog Range Expansion Project – there have been lots of things along the way that have made my chest swell.

We moved to our new location at the Simondium Guild last year. This has given Painted Wolf a beautiful tasting room and a permanent home, and the opportunity to develop our new production facility at the same location.

Lastly it makes me proud to see how the role that Emma plays in Painted Wolf has progressed so much over the years, and to watch the other people in our company grow. We aim to provide a work environment where people are valued and feel part of the pack!

Emma: I totally agree with that. Jeremy has covered a lot of things I was thinking about. Other highlights for me have been going out into the field with Cole [du Plessis] tracking wild dogs and learning about the conservation challenges.

I’ve also been working over the years at the travel and tourism shows, a huge passion, and it’s been great to tell our story to safari operators and get our wines into Kenya and other African countries – that started with taking my little wheelie case, persuading ATTA (African Travel and Tourism Association) to allow me to pour the wines on their stand. It’s now the eighth year and at last the shows are back! 

I have loved exploring and developing new markets and hearing the excitement in people tasting our South African wines for the first time, such as my first wine show in Japan. People engage with the fact that we are doing something so different.

The recent book launch with Cole [du Plessis] and Margot [Raggett] at our new tasting venue, made me very proud. (Remembering African Wild Dogs).

Jeremy: Yes, when I mention the book launch and our association with Margot to conservation people their ears prick up. 

Emma: Yes, it’s those things that really make it all worthwhile.

What changes have you seen in the wild dog conservation scene since you’ve been involved?

Jeremy: There has been a fundamental change in the perception of what African wild dogs are and what they bring to the environment and to the bush experience. When we started Painted Wolf Wines they were still very much on the periphery of the safari experience, and now there are numerous places that offer exclusive Painted Wolf or Painted dog safaris. The fact that negotiation is taking place to have a dedicated Painted Wolf conservation fund under the WCN umbrella sitting alongside the Lion recovery fund which is supported publicly by Leonardo DiCaprio is really significant. The possibility of that becoming a reality puts the conservation issues of African wild dogs onto the highest level of awareness in the conservation community. I do think that in a small way, Painted Wolf Wines has played a part in lifting the perception. I don’t want us to take too much credit! But I think that the public awareness in the different communities that we can engage with through our wines does help. 

Emma: For me it really came to a head when I listened in to the first virtual African Wild Dog Conference recently, when researchers and scientists from all over the world could present and have discussions on the way forward. There is much more focus on working together; the Range Expansion Project is a wonderful example of getting teams and stakeholders in different countries to achieve successful relocations of packs of African wild dogs from South Africa. They are such a vulnerable species for so many reasons and populations in entire areas have been wiped out over the years. Funding is crucial to securing the future of the Painted Wolf.

Emma:  I would also say that the relationships have strengthened between the conservation teams and tourism operators as there is such a need for them to work together and with local communities. With the growing interest from tourists to see  Painted Wolves, they also want to know about the conservation efforts. We were delighted that Richard Attenborough, narrating in the ‘Dynasties’ film, called them Painted Wolves. There has been so much confusion caused over the various ways they have been referred to such as Cape hunting dog, African wild dog, Painted Wolf, Painted dog….which has been detrimental to people’s understanding of them.  

Onto the winemaking – your model is that you currently don’t have your own cellar space and so you buy your grapes from different farms and make wine in more than one cellar. What have been the pros and cons of that way of working?

Jeremy: The most immediate one has been a cost consideration – the amount of capital that would have required to buy vineyards and to build and fully equip a cellar would have been significant. We simply were not in a position in 2007 to raise that type of capital. Our business model was to keep costs to a minimum to allow the maximum possible funding for conservation. I’ve really enjoyed working with numerous grape growers and the winemakers at rented cellar facilities over the years. Their input has been very good for our wine. Of late we have found it necessary to work in several cellars at the same time spread over a considerable distance and this has me very stretched, leading to costly mistakes.  At 15 we have decided to get our own spot. I am excited by this new chapter. We do need to raise  finance to help fund this development. We will make our first wine in our own Painted Wolf cellar in 2023.

We are bringing all the wine production in house. With the greater control  we will make better wine and manage our costs more efficiently. We can also develop a successor for me. I can’t keep climbing up stacks of barrels and lifting crates of grapes for the next 50 years! Someone must take over the mantle. 

Emma: It has been necessary for us to work in this way financially and it has given us flexibility and allowed us to be nimble. However, as Jeremy has said it has been challenging at many levels. Having moved our tasting venue to the Simondium Guild, it will be hugely beneficial to have cellar and storage space there also, and bring our team closer together in all senses of the word.

What’s your favourite wine you have made and your biggest wine disaster?

Emma: The funniest one for me was that first ever Viognier we made with no cooling in the cellar, and then we put whole bunches into the basket press and the juice just exploded and went everywhere! We then fermented the wine in a plastic barrel submerged in a large square bin of water into which we put dozens of bottles of frozen water each day.

Jeremy:  I must say driving the forklift into the side wall of a full tank of Grenache this year must rate up there….and there have been a couple of wine making fails which we won’t go into right now.

And my favourite wine…..gosh, a bit like asking a parent which is their favourite child. There are quite a few individual standouts over the years, various vintages of Guillermo Pinotage, and then the Madach cape Blend 2009 which was reputedly the highest scoring wine at 2011 Absa Cape Blend Competition and got me a fabulous trip to Portugal and Spain. I suppose that I like tinkering around with blends and have made several beauties the years.

I guess the other great love is Roussanne, and then Chenin Blanc, particularly our Lycaon heritage Chenin.

I am eternally curious and love to work with different grapes and get enthusiastic about these wines. We have a fantastic Carignan soon to be released.

I am really excited by the new range of wines carrying the names of famous wild dogs. 

Emma: I am a huge Chenin Blanc and Pinotage fan, and really enjoy the den range as well as the Guillermo Pinotage and the stunning Lycaon Chenin Blanc 2018 made from old vine grapes and certified as part of the Old Vine Project, which protects another endangered species, old vineyards! Grenache Blanc is another favourite which makes up part of Pictus 5 and Peloton Blanc. I really enjoy all of our wines and Jeremy often teases me for having ‘a home palate’!

What next?

Jeremy: Onwards and upwards. The cellar project that we’re doing [at the Simondium Guild] is the most significant addition to our business since we began 15 years ago. It will be a huge game changer for us.  We are still working to recover fully from the Covid crash in sales and some of the other effects caused by the disruptions over this time.

We are planning a crowd funding initiative to secure the funds we need to finance equipment for the cellar and provide some additional working capital. We are looking for 200 individuals to loan of R10,000 to Painted Wolf in exchange for a generous return of R20,000 worth of wine spread over number of years

When we look at our business in 15 years time we will be looking at a robust and respected business making great wine and a meaningful contribution to conservation.  The business needs to be able to run independently from Emma and I so that in years to come we are just elderly people who lend a hand. 

Emma: Absolutely! I’ve been looking back on what we said when we were setting out 15 years ago. We wanted to create a brand that had a fresh and different approach, was thought-provoking, down to earth, making high quality, distinct wines with conservation at the core of our company philosophy along with working with sustainable and organic vineyards. And I think we are on track!

We have to mention the incredible response so far to our new labels with the dog stories – people love the labels and they love the stories – I think this is a really big new chapter. 

Jeremy: Yes, an important turning point. 

And so on with the celebrations – we have selected some of our favourites for you to buy at a discounted price for two weeks only – order by 9 May to take advantage of this offer.  We’ve also included a fantastic experimental white blend which is available online only – click on the button below to view the wines. Offer applies to six-bottle cases.  Free shipping on orders over R1,500. Available within South Africa only. Place your order here.