Continuing our series Friends of Cultivate, today we’re talking to the winemaker for Fable Wines, Rebecca Tanner. We were delighted to speak to Rebecca because she is in a VERY interesting position- she’s a female winemaker, for one thing, but that’s only the beginning.

She’s Australian, living and working in South Africa, on a remote vineyard and farm, working with her husband, who is the vineyard’s viticulturalist, AND raising three kids! Plus, did you know that baboons frequent the vineyards in South Africa? Yeah, there’s a lot to hear about…

How did you end up in winemaking? What is your background?
I grew up close to the Hunter Valley in Australia and for my leaving certificate at school I made my first wine as part of an advanced agriculture subject, I fell in love with everything about wine and haven’t looked back since.

Did you grow up thinking you wanted to live on a farm? How did you end up with the lifestyle that you have?
Growing up I remember always wanting to be a vet because I loved animals and as a kid I definitely went through a phase of wanting to live on a farm, I remember telling my mom that I wanted to marry a farmer and she said well why don’t you just become a farmer, so yes I suppose it has always been a dream.

What is it like being a winemaking mom living on a vineyard in Africa with your husband and three kids?
Hard work, challenging but very rewarding. It is so fantastic to watch my kids grow up on the farm -my daughter is riding horses and my son catches frogs in the stream. I want my kids to really know the natural world and develop a deep bond with it. I think when you spend a lot of time with nature as a child it stays with you forever and it is a strength you can draw on at any time.

What are the challenges? Tell us about the baboons…
Yes the baboons are definitely challenging, but I love them, they have such an amazing presence- sometimes I go into the wildness and just sit and watch them play and groom each other. This year though we have developed plans a to z to try and stop them from coming down into the vineyard. We have to go as far as to electrify the entire vineyard, we also receive an SMS whenever something crosses over the fence and we have permanent employees on quad bikes with pepper ball guns to chase them away if they happen to get in, we want to let them know that they are not welcome in the vineyard at harvest time because they cause too much damage to the grapes and vines. (The baboons run through the rows picking bunch after bunch and they decimate whole areas!)

What are the best parts?
I love Africa and the Fable farm- its wonderful to have the opportunity to get to know such a wild and beautiful place. There is such a freedom and sense of adventure here that keeps life very exciting. The wintertime at Fable is very special when the mountains come alive with the many waterfalls, fresh smells and mist, it really is ethereal.

What’s it like being a team with your husband? Did you two meet through wine?
Paul and I work very well together- we are very complementary. We first met when he was hitching a ride on a long open road in Australia. I picked him up in my Kombi and it turned out that we were going to the same place! Life has been a bit like that ever since.

Tell us a little bit about biodynamics… what is it? Why is it important?
Biodynamics is about farming in a way that is good for everyone including the land, the people who work on the farm, the animals, the plants, and the farmer. It is about a physical growth as well as a spiritual growth and farming with a conscious knowledge of the greater whole, the cosmos, the water, the air and the earth.

Biodynamics requires the vineyard and farm to be as much of a self-contained unit as possible. Having animals on the farm helps tremendously with this, their manure becomes part of our well-established composting programme, which helps feed the vines and the vineyard becomes more resilient.

By working with the elements, we develop vitality in the vineyard, which helps to create individual and interesting wines. It means that you have to be very hands on in your approach- its about observation and getting involved in the processes of nature. By doing this you become a mirror of your work and that is very fulfilling.

What makes you passionate about wine?
Wine is such a lot of fun and such an amazing adventure, from the buzz of harvest and meeting new people to living close to nature and getting to know the rhythms of place, to travel and discovering new cultures, enjoying their hospitality and food. There really is nothing quite like it and when you happen to stumble across a wine in perfect balance and harmony in just the right setting and circumstance, it reminds you what you are striving for, and there is nothing better than that!

(Each Fable wine is named for an animal, and there is a fable attached to each animal. The Bobbejaan is the top tier red wine, named for the Afrikaans word for baboon, and the baboons that roam the vineyards.)

What is next for Fable?
Fable is always changing and reinventing itself just like a story that keeps evolving! Currently we have just finished building a new barrel cellar and have completely renovated the winery, which is looking fantastic. There are still some final touch ups such as making beautiful gardens around the cellar, which will be ongoing throughout the year.

In the vineyard the growing season is powering along and the coming harvest looks very fruitful, so we are really looking forward to harvesting and working in our brand new cellar in 2012.

We are also very excited about the release of the Fable wines in the US in December, please drop us a line and tell us what you think once they are released, we would love to hear from you.

On the animal side our programme is coming along beautifully with the recent addition of 6 Nguni cows and a wonderful bull. The sheep are also doing very well and the flock has more than doubled in size from this time last year with all the twins that were born, we are also interested in getting a few lama which help with protecting the sheep from the wild animals such as the Rooi cat. The next project is to make chicken tractors for the chickens and a worm farm for producing valuable vermicast.

(See the sheep in the photo above?)

We would also like to start welcoming guests to the farm so that they can experience the Fable lifestyle for themselves so if you are ever in our neighborhood please look us up, we would love to show you around!


Click “comments” at the top of this post for a Q&A with Rebecca… we’re curious about those Rooi cats and want to hear more about biodynamics! Can you believe the story about how she met her husband? What a romance!

Do you have questions for Rebecca?


17. November 2011 by cultivate_admin
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Comments (2)

  1. Rebecca is just inspirational. What a woman. Her attitudes on both winemaking and child-rearing are both refreshing and particularly relevant, given the state of the world today.Her family in Australia must be just so proud of she is accomplishing - both within the wine industry and as a mum raising small children. I am in awe…

    • We agree Robyn!! She’s such a rockstar! Thanks for your comment, too, I’m sure Rebecca will love to read it.

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