First impression is that here is someone who is very different and an individualist. Well groomed albeit dark stubble on chin and cheeks topped by a dark engineers cap confirm the impression as does the difficult to determine accent which turns out to be Belgium. English is spoken with an engaging turn of phrase.
Q. What made you come to South Africa ?
“On a visit to the Cape my wife and I fell in love with the beautiful Elgin Valley and knew that this was where we could produce elegant wines that would be sexy and pure but at the same time unique and, maybe, even a little wild. “
Q. Where were you born ?
“In Belgium in July 1974.”
Q. Where did you study ?
“I studied Engineering at Kortjk in Belgium.” “I also became a Sommelier because of my love for wine.”
Q. Do you consider your approach to winemaking to be different to others ?
With great enthusiasm and emphasis “Oh, most certainly yes !! I’m an alchemist and have an unbelievable feeling with my vineyards , I love vineyard architecture and don’t believe in irrigation. We must listen to the vine and do what the vine asks us. That means don’t trellis a vine like we want but how she wants like lyre and gyot and so on.”
Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?
“I probably spend 70% of my time with my vines.”
Q. Do you have any varieties you prefer to work with ?
“Pinotage and pinot noir.”
Q. Have you been influenced by any particular winemaker or by a wine region ?
“Francois Naude was my teacher and my mentor. He showed me to understand pinotage and that winemaking is a gift and not something you learn at school.”
Q. What would you consider your greatest achievement as a winemaker ?
“ I am still waiting for it but it comes ! But on the way, maybe my first one was to reinvent pinotage. Pinotage in Elgin. Elegant in style and walking away from the jammy, alcoholic, over extracted style like we all know. I had my Five stars in 2012 for it. The next one was to show the world that Riesling can be made in South Africa and that it can reflect it’s terroir if you understand the vine. Teaching South African people that she is the Queen of grapes so handle her like a queen. Minerality, expensive and give her a beautiful bottle and don’t make her a sweet thing of here, we are not in Germany ! “I did not mention Chenin Blanc. Planting Chenin in Elgin was a dream that came true because if your figures work well, poor soil, high density, great drainage, wind, aspect, you can make something great that is so pure, clean, shinning that it brings you to fine dining of the world of top chefs.” After some thought he adds “The Elgin area is the future gold of the Western Cape.”
Q. What “secrets” have you “developed” that make your wines different to others ?
His answer is direct “Secrets ? Understanding your vineyard and working with nature. Nature provides it all. No need to add anything ! Nature is on the inside and not how pretty the bunch looks on the outside!”
Q. How important is modern winemaking equipment in your winemaking ?
“Not at all. Give me small stainless steel tanks, a basket press and a cooling system. Also a cool store and I am happy. Of course, also, a brush to clean.”
Q. And the future ?
“ Very easy, winemaking is just part of my vision as it is to educate people showing them what passion can do in winemaking which is the key to success. Do the things that you are good at and work with the grapes that are made for you and your region. If not take them out but do not try and make something average.”