Deep Rooted Wines was started by Mark Stephens, a deep thinker and regenerative viticulturist with a focused, intentional approach to winemaking. Mark has a long resumé in the wine world, including stints in the Swartland with Adi Badenhorst, in the Loire Valley with Domaine du Closel, in Sonoma working with Enterprise Vineyards, and in Constantia with Eagles Nest. Mark’s foray into wine is thanks to his mom, who encouraged him to take a gap year after high-school after he announced he wanted to go into engineering. Mark spent several months working at a regenerative, wholistic farm in Sonoma, which was his first introduction to grape growing. Back home in South Africa, he ditched those career plans and dove into wine. Mothers really do know best…
But soon, despite his love for his new career choice, Mark began to feel a similar discomfort while working in cellars. Mark writes, “We were making low intervention wines with the catchphrase ‘Sulphur is your friend.’ This powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial was used intelligently, but freely, and the wines produced were indeed superb. However, I was running around the cellar for 16 hours a day with a permanent headache (a sign of runaway inflammation), which tripled the effort required for every action.”
Fast forward a few years to a job in the Loire Valley. Mark was in a region dominated by natural wine producers, and he soon realized the connection between lack of sulfur and lack of headache. He’s quick to note that not everyone feels this sensitivity that he does; just like with gluten, peoples’ reactions to sulfur can range from nothing to mild sensitivity to allergy. “Personally,” Mark says, “I don’t want my sensitivity to end my sensual exploration of this fine nectar from the Gods.”
And thus, Deep Rooted Wines was born. As a result, Mark has joined the new wave of Cape South Coasters, along with names like Natasha Williams, Paul Hoogwerf, and Doug Mylrea, who are realizing the potential of the cooler, maritime regions of South Africa’s winelands. Mark’s wines, from Walker Bay, are bright, zippy, textural, clean, and always sulfur-free. He makes a textural Verdelho with a suggestive name (‘Touch Me’) and provocative label (a hairy, bumpy human nipple), as well as a Sauvignon Blanc called ‘Journey to the Centre of the Universe.’ They showcase the best things about natural wine – lack of additives, terroir-focused, small-scale viticulture – without the normal suspects that can sometimes taint this category. Mark’s wines are a reminder of what natural wine can, and should, be. When applied with level-headed intention, dogma isn’t always a dirty word.