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New World Wine Maker Blog

Pieter Badenhorst – Winemaker at Bergkelder

Q Where and when  were you born ? 

“1980 in Graaf Reinett, in the north of the Eastern Cape.”

Q Where did you study  and what qualifications do you have ?

“I studied at University of Stellenbosch  1999 to 2002 and obtained a BSc in winemaking.”

Q Do you consider your approach to winemaking to be different to others ?

“Not really .  I just love the ability  that Fleur du Cap gives me to work with an  extremely big range of regions  and grape producers with their different vineyard blocks.”

Q How involved to you get in the vineyard ? 

“Not nearly enough in the off-season, but during harvest  I do regular visits to our reserve blocks and will not harvest  before our team have tasted and made a call based on optimum ripeness in the vineyard itself.”

Q Do you have any varieties you prefer to work with ?

“I love working with Pinotage and Chenin Blanc.”

Q Have you been influenced  by any particular winemaker or region ? 

“I have a few people in the industry that I look up to. Charles Hopkins springs immediately to mind. Razvan Macici was a great influence. Most of my colleagues here at Distell are proper stand up winemakers and I love being on this journey  with them.”

Q What would you consider your greatest achievement as a winemaker ?

With a big grin “When my wife and father-in-law tell me they  love drinking a wine that I make. They started drinking long before I met them and know their wines very well.” And continues “Yes, I have won a few gold medals and trophies over the years, but it is the good feedback from our everyday drinkers that make me the happiest.”

Q What “secrets “ have you “developed “ that make your wines different to others ? 

“I think it is the big number of “building blocks” we create during harvest .  Using grapes from different regions , using different yeasts, barrels  and a few other techniques that we have developed over the years  that help  a lot  when we do the final blending of any given wine. “

Q. How important is modern winemaking equipment in your winemaking ?

“In large scale wine production there is a place for modern winemaking equipment, but when it comes to reserve wines , nothing holds up to good old basics. Attention to detail and patience can’t be replaced by machinery. “

Q. What of your history and the future ?

“Although born in Graaff Reinett I grew up in the Boland . Studied winemaking. Started winemaking at Nederburg  in 2003 and moved to the Bergkelder in 2007. Here I have been part of the winemaking team responsible  for a pretty big selection of well known  wine brands including Fleur du Cap, Allesverloren, Jacobsdal, Lomond, Two Oceans , Drostdy Hof to name but a few ! I am EXTREMELY passionate about winemaking and love being involved in the process throughout the entire process. From grapes and building relationships with our wonderful farmers, working with  a dedicated cellar team to standing  in the front of a room filled with people, talking about the wine that I helped to make and getting them to taste. Hopefully our story gets  them to taste the first bottle. The actual wine will make them buy the next pallet !!

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The winding road of winemaking

by Geena Whiting. 

There was a night this past month in which I battled to sleep. Exhausted from a hard day’s work in the cellar I lay in bed tossing and turning. Sleep eluded me, tentative excitement bubbled in my stomach. The next day I would be getting my very own grapes, to make my very own wine.

The Sauvignon Blanc grapes arrived in the early morning. The grapes themselves were crisp and green, with a medium thick skin that disintegrated easily when chewed and a watery pulp with flavours of tropical fruit and freshly cut grass.  Into the crusher de-stemmer they went; anticlimactic as they were led straight from the crusher de-stemmer into tank thirteen by a pipe.

A juice sample was drawn off the tank and needless to say I was underwhelmed and nervous. The juice was murky and had a dusty mustard hue to it. That tropical fruit was still evident on the nose, but a boring green apple was the main flavour on the palate. A sample also had to be drawn to be sent to the lab, and my first mistake happened in this step. Instead of adding 0.08ml of Sulphur to the sample (to prevent it from fermenting), I had added 8ml of Sulphur! So naturally the results that came back were a bit skew. But over the hurdle I went and sent in a new sample the next day (with the right amount of sulphur you will be glad to know).

Two days after settling the juice was a far more pleasant colour, a pale lemon-green with tropical fruit and some bell pepper coming through on the palate. I was feeling more confident, I racked off the juice into separate tubs to add the different treatments (acidifying and de-acidifying the juice prior to fermentation). This was simple enough and then after I simply decanted the different treatments into their respective kegs. The juice was allowed to homogenise over two days and a final sample was taken from each keg and sent in for analysis.

After the two day wait I was eager to get my “keg babies” fermenting.  The yeast was rehydrated and the juice inoculated correctly, no hick-ups thus far. On day 2 of fermentation the balling started to drop and like a proud mother hen I fluffed up my tail feathers and clucked around the cellar. Satisfied that this whole wine making thing isn’t as hard as it looks. Well it’s all well and easy to think that when everything is going your way.

Fermentation continued until about day 9, that’s when disaster struck (well in my eyes it was a disaster). The Balling hadn’t changed for the last 3 days, the fermentation was stuck, I was distraught, I had done everything correctly and why wasn’t it working??? Then after some tears and a discussion with my mentor, he suggested it was the cooling system that was making the fermentation sluggish. Yeast need “Warmer” temperatures to ferment effectively, and my kegs were sitting at a very chilled 12°B. Removing them from the cooling system and just letting them sit there the fermentation came right once again.

With them having had a sluggish start, reduction soon followed and daily stirring with a whisk was required for each keg over a period of three days. Needless to say I think I can now whip cream without an electric beater! The reduction soon passed and all seemed well. But this was not the end of the trials, it was not as they say smooth sailing ahead.

Kegs are pressurized containers, so when you have fermenting wines in them, one must never close it fully, otherwise it will be difficult, almost impossible to get it open. And low and behold a keg was closed to tightly, I tried to use the pressure valve to get some air out but it was no use, instead of air wine came bubbling out. In the heat of the moment I viciously kicked down on the lid and BOOM! Out sprays half of the keg… well done Geena, well done. Distraught that I had wasted half of the one keg I vowed to myself to always handle the kegs with respect and love.

Fermentation was coming to an end and everything had aligned itself nicely. Until one fateful morning I walked into the cellar and gawked, looking at the spot where my kegs should have been, and then two meters to the right where they were lined up neatly in the same order I had left them in but open, open to the heavens and the elements. Freshly off the ferment wines just left open. I ran toward them, hoping that somehow they were alright, but hope can be a fickle thing. My once glorious green-lemon wine was now brown with a hint of pink, a slight red apple sherry smell had replaced the tropical fruit. I collapsed on the ground in a heap of tears, the culmination of my entire education had been ruined by a bystander.

Gathering myself together I once again turned to my mentor not thinking it was fixable, and yet he seemed un-phased and simply said sulphur is a winemakers friend. Thus I added 80ppm of sulphur to each get and gave the empty space at the top of each keg a healthy dose of CO2 to prevent any chance of someone opening them or the wine getting oxidized. Two days later I tentatively opened each keg to see the damage, and they were back to their glorious lemon green colour and expressing beautiful aromas. They were saved by some sulphur and are now sitting happily in the cellar awaiting bottling.

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The Tasting Evolution

By Jenna Higgins.

After recently attending a MCC base-wine tasting hosted by the exclusive Cap Classique Association, I found myself wondering about how much effort goes into analysing and tasting a glass of wine. In my case, wine tasting formed a part of my tertiary education – I loved this, as it gave me an excuse to tell people that tasting wine was “beneficial to my education”.

Basic wine tasting etiquette is taught to wine students in the second semester of their first year of studying, where we are normally all greatly disappointed to find out that it is in fact a common courtesy to spit your sip of wine out, as apposed to actually drinking it. I remember a fellow classmate tentatively asking if we had to “spit with a specific technique”, as if there were some kind of finesse to it.

Following being thoroughly disappointed by the instruction to spit out our lovely class-time inebriants in our first year, we were then introduced to the concept of blind tastings and cultivar identification in our second year. To be fair, though, they started us off easy, we simply had to taste wines out of blacked-out glasses and determine whether the wine was red, white or pink (rosé). Initially, while some of us struggled to identify more than two prominent aromas on the wines, it soon became apparent that some of our fellow classmates clearly had a little bit more tasting experience than the rest of us.

After slowly introducing our tastebuds to wine, our senses were further stimulated with small foil covered bottles, each containing a different wine aroma. We then had to identify the various aromas that lay within each bottle. Aromas such as chocolate, cinnamon, orange blossom, guava, pineapple and peach were easy to identify, while others such as elderflower, jasmine, quince, violet and tomato leaf were more difficult. Most of us had never smelled these scents before, it was an entirely new experience. On a side note, I still can’t pick up guava aromas to this day (I was told everyone has a ‘blind spot’ on their nose, I guess that’s mine!).

Once our noses had been calibrated, the tastings advanced to a combination of bottled aromas and cultivar specific wines. We were asked to identify which aromas presented themselves in the wines, after smelling the varietal’s characteristic aromas in the bottles. Gradually, we came to associate Sauvignon Blanc with either guava, passion fruit and gooseberry, or on the greener spectrum, elderflower, lemon grass, asparagus and green peppers. Pinotage became recognisable by aromas of strawberries, mocha, banana and plums, and so we learnt how to distinguish between cultivars based on smell.

Colour analysis was the next step in our wine tasting journey, where we would soon come to realise that not all rosé was actually classified as rosé, and red wine could be as dark as midnight or as light as cranberries. At the time, it seemed fascinating that one could distinguish between cultivars based on colour (while the wines bouquet was still kept in mind), a few years down the line this concept appears to be entirely logical and almost of a second nature when tasting.

Things got really interesting when the WSET team took over our midday tasting praticals, our palates were tantalized by wines from Italy, France, Spain, New Zealand, Chile and many more. We were taught to differentiate between acidity and astringency, as well as primary, secondary and tertiary wine aromas. Here, we also learnt that wood tannin and wine tannin are two completely different things and that their influences on the palate also vary.

Third year threw us a lovely curveball by the name of ‘wine faults’; we were now considered to be “experienced tasters”, we had levelled up from our first year “gesuipery” and advanced to a more professional level of wine tasting. Up until this point, I was only aware of cork taint, though I had little to no skill when identifying it in a wine. Picking up wine faults was definitely not my strong point, I kept confusing Brettanomyces spoilage with the TCA derived aromas of cork taint… I even thought the oxidised wines smelled quite fruity. Some of my class mates had better luck than I did and went on to participate in the faulty wine identification course. Fast forward a few months and everyone had successfully managed to gain a sound knowledge on wine faults.

Zoning out of my three-and-a-half-year flash back, I now find myself sitting at a MCC base wine tasting with a table of tasting experts, while I try my best not to let my inexperience show. At first, I doubted myself, much like I did in first year and then as the winemakers around the table began to voice their opinions, I noticed that many were similar to what I had written on the page in front of me. Although I wouldn’t quite consider myself to be an experienced taster, looking back at the hard work my lecturers  have put into refining the palates of generations of winemakers-to-be, I can’t help but to feel a tingle of excitement for the years of learning and development to come.

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Sauvignon blanc – role of phenotypic plasticity in cultivar typicity

Grapevine cultivars are remarkably adaptable to their environments and responsive to production manipulations. This adaptability is (scientifically) described as phenotypic- or metabolic plasticity. You might not have heard these terms before, but they underpin the observation that under certain conditions the same cultivar can produce very different styles of wines, or in other words, display plasticity. To understand the plasticity of a cultivar, it is necessary to study the underlying physiology and metabolism. To do that, grapevine cultivars need to be studied in interaction with their environment (natural and manipulated). It sounds relatively easy, but it is no simple task. Considering the multitude and complexity of the individual factors potentially affecting field grown grapes, how can one reliably predict the outcome of a viticultural treatment? From a scientific perspective it comes down to the need to establish “cause-and effect” (causality) type vineyard studies. A causal relationship exists when the results/trends of an experiment are proven to be caused by the manipulation, or a specific factor. Such a study of a leaf removal treatment in a Sauvignon blanc vineyard could explain why wine style/typicity can be shifted by increased bunch exposure and provide proof of this cultivar’s metabolic plasticity.


Producers and viticulturists are confronted with a multitude of compounding factors to contend with to produce quality grapes. Some viticultural decisions are long term, and are decided during the initial establishment phase of the vineyard, and include: site selection (e.g. climate, altitude, aspect/inclination and soil), cultivar/clone selection, scion/rootstock combination, row orientation, vine/row spacing and trellising system. Needless to say, these decisions influence the ultimate quality of the grapes and are costly to change once a vineyard has been established.

Other decisions are seasonal, and can include the choice of cover crop(s), the implementation of canopy manipulations (e.g. shoot thinning, shoot trimming and leaf removal), bunch manipulations (e.g. cluster thinning), and timing of winter pruning. The grape yield and/or quality is then further influenced by the prevailing seasonal conditions (vintage) which can be considered as the sum total of all factors that the grapes are exposed to in any given season and will include wind, water (rain and/or irrigation), light, temperature, humidity and disease load (pathogens and pests). These factors do not occur in isolation, and for each of these factors both the timing and intensity is relevant. The challenge is to link these factors to outcomes in causal relationships to ultimately understand their impacts on grape/wine quality.1

We used an early leaf removal treatment in Sauvignon blanc in the moderate (cool night) region of Elgin to study the impact of increased bunch exposure on grape composition throughout berry developmental stages (i.e. green pea size through till the ripe/harvest stage).

Leaf removal is used for diverse purposes, usually with a predetermined viticultural and/or oenological outcome …


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Meet Christiaan Nigrini – Winemaker at Asara

Q. When and where were you born ? 

“I was born on 7th July outside a recognised winemaking area in Beaufort West.”

Q. Where did you study and what qualification did you achieve ?

“I studied at Elsenberg during 2014 and 2016. I finished my BAgric degree.”

Q. Do you consider your approach to winemaking to be different to others ? 

“I would not say  it’s different , I still believe the basis for winemaking is the same all over, depends on the style you make. I would have to admit I’m  more of a relaxed person in life and believe in let it be.  This might just be because  I’m young, but that is what I believe now. I do believe wine is made in the vineyard , you should just  facilitate it in the cellar.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“Not nearly enough. This is a big part in my career that I have to work on. Winemaking has and will forever start in the vineyard. If you don’t know  what’s going on in the vineyard  you will not understand what is happening in the tank ! (So my next focus now is to get more involved  in the vineyard.)

Q. Do you have any varieties you prefer to work with ? 

“At this moment Gamay noir is a variety  that I love working with. I would also like to work with Verdelho.”

Q. Have you been influenced by any particular winemaker or by a wine region ? 

“I don’t have a specific winemaker that influenced me, but I have a few winemakers that I got bits and pieces from in life.  If there is one winemaker that I have to mention it is Danielle Roux. I believe  she taught me the greatest in life and that is to give anyone an opportunity to prove themselves. Regarding wine region, I would have to say in South Africa it’s the Swartland. The way they do things is just mind  blowing  !  Abroad I would have to admit it’s Portugal, and more specific the Douro valley. I love the wine styles you get there, especially the white blends. It’s crazy how good the wine is.”

Q. What would you consider your greatest achievement as a winemaker ?

“Well I am still young in this industry , but to come straight out of Elsenberg and to walk into a cellar and do 1000 tons ! I feel this is quite an achievement !”

Q. What “secrets” have you “developed” that make your wines different to others ? 

“I’m  still an Assistant winemaker, but one secret, if you can call it that, I’ve learned to believe in what you get from the vineyard, it will end up in the wine. It might not seem like it during fermentation, but don’t worry about it, just believe,”

Q. How important is modern winemaking equipment in your winemaking ?

“Keep it simple and basic ! You have eyes and hands, a nose and a mouth. Use them, they won’t let you down. I’m not at all against machinery , but don’t try to make wine.”

Q. Tell me about your background ? 

“I grew up on a farm just outside Beaufort West as one of three children.  Both my parents came from a farming background. I matriculated in the Central High School and took a gap year after school and then went on to study at Elsenberg. “

Q. What plans for the future ?

“I am not too sure. I have to learn a lot more about wine and vineyards. I want to travel to different countries meet new people and really enjoy life !”

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A Cellar Intern’s Survival Guide to your First Harvest

Excitement bubbles over as the eager new intern arrives at 06:30am, a whole 30 minutes prior to her actual clock-in time. This lasts for about a week; after the second week you’ll be missing your Monday morning 8am lectures and 9am Neelsie coffee breaks (I have now revealed myself as the first-time-intern).

As the weeks speed on through you learn to, in the words of Johan Malan, either “ride the harvest wave, or miss it”. The first few weeks are and always will be tough, with all the MCC grapes ripening simultaneously while other white cultivars pick up the balling-chase to the cellar, just tailing the MCC cultivars. There were always a few nights a week that got my hopes up, encouraged by cheerful cellar workers telling me “ons gaan vanaand vroeg chaila (we are going home early tonight)”, only to have my hopes crushed by the sound of a bursting press door, or a load of grapes arriving at 21:00 because the lorry broke down. Those 3am nights will make or break you, and so, after pushing through some very late nights I thought to myself, “Girl, you need a survival plan!”.

Firstly, you need to be open to making new friends during harvest, mainly because your social life only involves a very deep-felt love for your bed. You will make two very important new BEST friends, their names are Berocca boost (or Vitathion) and coffee. These rock-steady companions will get you through the latest of late nights, the earliest of early mornings and the two-hourly punch down shifts.

When the coffee fails, learn to appreciate the smaller things to get you through the day. Open your senses to the things around you. One morning, after a long shift, I felt completely deflated as I walked past the nartjie trees lined outside the cellar. I hadn’t noticed that they were in blossom; the sweet citrus-blossom aromas instantly brightened up my day and added an extra spring to my step. After feeling so happy for noticing something as small and seemingly insignificant as a delicate citrus aroma wafting outside the cellar, I started to take note of other things too. Morning ballings became a lot more interesting when I realised that the fermentations all offered unique aromas that triggered many childhood memories. For example, one section of the cellar smelled like bubbaloo bubble gum for about a week, while the MCC must happily fermented. Another section of the cellar smelled of raspberries and strawberry jive ice-cream.

Eventually, the MCC and white wine grapes give way to the red wine cultivars, which slowly take their time to roll into the cellar and fill up the tanks. This is a completely different ball game, white wine won’t stain your favourite pair of jeans, let alone your hands. After struggling to get my hands clean for about a month, I finally discovered the beauty of citric acid and tartaric acid. To remove the anthocyanin stains from your hands, once a week to avoid damaging your skin, use either as an exfoliating hand scrub with some warm water. Your hands will be left feeling soft and stain free!

Another helpful hint to all harvest interns out there: if you break a balling meter (or three, in my case), it doesn’t mean your going to be doomed as a winemaker, it just means you were a little bit clumsy and that’s okay! However, if you know you’re clumsy or accident prone, I would definitely suggest a good pair of non-slip boots, they last forever and are definitely a lot cheaper than any potential hospital bills.

Following the non-slip boots, a very important and often over-looked harvest essential is a reasonable amount of good, thick pairs of long socks. You will be on your feet all day, every day. Long socks save you from any nasty heel-blisters, as well as keeping the edges of your jeans tucked in to prevent any chaffing. I am almost certain the winemakers at work think I have a very questionable fashion sense, every day I wear a pair of brightly patterned long socks with my ankle boots, because it not only brightens up my day, but it also makes everyone around me smile to themselves a bit, even if its at my expense.

Investing in a pair of insteps is also a very good idea. After my first month of harvest, my feet started getting quite sore so I removed my hiking boots’ insteps and put them inside of my cellar boots, and it made a worlds difference! I wasn’t getting tired on my feet anymore, which put me in a much more positive frame of mind. See, what did I say about the small things?

Always keeping a hat, a pair of harvest scissors/pruning shears and sunblock handy in your backpack or car is also a good idea, you never know when you’re going to be sent off to explore the vineyards, do harvest predictions, retrieve samples or be asked to cut a few bunches. Always be prepared, don’t forget: working in the cellar also involves the vineyard.

The most important lesson I learned this harvest was that if you push through the hardest parts, you start having a lot of fun. Don’t be discouraged when things get difficult, instead, take it as a challenge. Don’t pine after an “easy” harvest, push through a difficult one so that you will be as prepared as ever if mother nature decides to throw you another curve ball like the 2015-2018 drought. Stay positive, appreciate the small things and have as much fun as possible, because I promise, it is possible.

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