“it certainly is. The property was granted in 1699 and, although there were wineries making wine before us we have produced more continuous vintages than any other winery in South Africa. At a time the property was owned by the last prime Minister of the old Cape Colony, John X Merriman.”
Q. Where were you born ?
“I was born in Somerset West and grew up on a historic farm on the Helderberg.”
Q. Your education was not usual for a winemaker ?
“Yes, my family had different ideas. I went to school in Kwa Zulu Natal and matriculated from Hilton College. I then went on to read a Bachelor of Social Science majoring in Organisational Psychology and Industrial Sociology at Rhodes University. Following my time at Rhodes I worked two vintages in the Rustenberg cellar and studied first year chemistry part time at the University of Stellenbosc before reading my Masters in Oenonology at University of Adelaide, Australia graduating with distinction at end of 2011.”
Q. Not your usual lead into winemaking ?
With a disarming smile “No, but it seems to have worked !”
Q. In what way ?
“I have twice been short listed by Diners Club Young Winemaker of the year and this year have two of my Chardonnays in the top six !!” (Five Soldiers Chardonnay 2012 and Rustenberg Chardonnay 2014)
Q. Do you consider your approach to winemaking to be different to others ?
“No, I believe in sound conventional winemaking that balances the basic chemistry of healthy winemaking with the reality of the potential of the fruit I work with along with the commercial reality of the styles of wine people want to drink and cellar.”
Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?
“During harvest I am in the vineyards every day. We make all our final picking decisions on taste. Throughout the year I try to visit the vineyard twice a week and feedback areas of concern to the vineyard team which is headed by my father, Simon. We face a number of issues throughout the year that need careful management ranging from eutypa, wind damage and the containment and elimination of leaf-roll virus. Healthy vineyards , in balance, produce great wine.”
Q. Do you have any varieties you prefer to work with ?
“I enjoy the challenge of working with Chardonnay, it is versatile and forgiving but will also highlight clumsy decisions made in the vineyard and winery. While Cabernet Sauvignon would be the most humbling red varietal to work with and it is truly a varietal forged in the vineyard. My “thing on the side” would be Grenache. When made properly , I believe it is the most drinkable and delicious of all red varietals !”
Q. Have you been influenced by any particular winemaker or wine region ?
“ I think I have been influenced by a number of people along my journey in wine. My father, Simon, Randolf Christians our head winemaker, and our consultant, Kym Milne MW. All possess a great focus and humility to the approach to wine.”
Q. What would you consider your greatest achievement as a winemaker ?
“Winning the 2013 Diner’s Club Young Winemaker of the Year would be the single most important. “
Q. What “secrets” have you “developed” that make your wines different to others ? “We have a culture of small scale experimentation at Rustenberg that focusses to better our products and not reinvent the wheel. There are also many winemakers who have come before us, some of the most valuable lessons we have learnt have been from asking questions and listening to other winemakers from all over the world and then to test these ideas on our own wines. Don’t stop learning and don’t fall in love with your own wines, a cellar palate is a death sentence.”
Q. How important is modern winemaking equipment in your winemaking ? “As I said above, I believe in conventional winemaking however not overly manipulative winemaking. Clean stainless steel tanks, high quality pumps, hoses, filters, clean healthy barrels etc…. are all essential. Manipulative technology such as micro-oxygenation or must concentrators are not used by us.”
Q. How about the future ? “There is no future without a past. My family have farmed Rustenberg since 1941 and together with my father our focus is on the production of iconic wines from the Stellenbosch region. Exporting 80% of our production we believe there is great potential for South African wine to have a better standing internationally. The style of wine we are producing as a country appeals to a broad range of consumers and the relative value for money we deliver at all price points is exceptional.”