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New World Wine Maker Blog

Richard Duckitt – Red Winemaker at Boschendal

Q. When and where were you born ?

“I was born on 24th September 1982 in the Somerset Hospital. However I come from Darling and from a long line of well-known farmers.”

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

“I studied at Elsenberg doing their diplomas in Cellar Technology and Viticulture.” Then added “That is a great institution and being an Agricultural College  you get to see all manner of agriculture including animal husbandry and so , I believe, their graduates are better all-round farmers/winemakers.”

Q. What was your first job when you left Elsenberg ? 

“Almost across the road with the Melcks at Muratie. That was a great experience  to start your career.”

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

“All winemakers will have similar interests and a basic winemaking foundation, but I am a technical and focussed individual always looking at the little things. I love experimenting and tasting. I also  don’t force any wine into something that it’s not.” Then adds with a grin “If that makes any sense to anyone ! It needs to express itself and I believe in natural freshness and balance.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“At Boschendal we have a designated viticulturist, but I venture  into the vineyards  as often as I can and never harvest anything without thorough prior tasting. “

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

“Shiraz has always been the top spot, but I am developing a love for Bordeaux varieties. They are definitely more challenging. “ Then adds “I really love a challenge. “ The carries on “ I found that I enjoyed working with cabernet sauvignon when I was in Sonoma, California.  In Spain Tempranillo was good while in Italy Barbera and Nebbiola filled the bill.”

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

“For us at Boschendal the vineyards and regions play a huge role ! The different styles that the regions deliver has helped build and distinguish our different brands, and I am hugely privileged  to work with so many  different varieties and origins. It is humbling, and also makes me proud to see the variety of styles that our South African terroir can produce. My favourites  seem to come from altitude sites, or cooler coastal vineyards, but I have proved myself wrong on many occasions !” He adds with a grin.

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

He answers with seriousness.  “I didn’t become a winemaker foe awards or recognition. For me it is, however,  highly rewarding  to see people just enjoying the wine. To be a skipper of the Boschendal Red wine ship is probably my biggest achievement, and through my whole career I have been working toward this kind of responsibility.”

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

“The realisation that one cannot fiddle  too much, but gently guide with winemaking intervention. That means harvesting at the correct time, ripe tannins, natural freshness. And no dominating new oak. Also trying new things and seeing what works best for certain areas and varietals.”

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

“We have a new crusher de-stemmer that makes a huge difference in our Bordeaux varietals  by removing almost all the stalks and green berries. Much more so than conventional machines. I believe in using what works best and if there is new equipment that can have a quality impact we will most certainly look into  it. Saying that we bought a hand cranked basket press this year and it was one of the best buys ever ! So new is not necessarily best.”

Q. What brought you to be the Red winemaker at Boschendal ? 

“Well I grew up on a Duckitt farm in Darling so I am a farmer at heart. I matriculated at SACS and then went to Elsenberg followed by three vintages overseas. The a few locally before spending ten years  at Franschhoek Vineyards. I joined Boschendal in May 2015 as their Red Winemaker.” Then continues in serious vein “As you know Boschendal has been producing great wines for years and have made great strides in the market place so one does not want to change what works or re-invent the wheel, but we constantly look for ways to improve and tweak in pursuit of perfection. We also have some exciting new wines that will be released soon.” Then adds with a mischievous grin “I have been sworn to secrecy so cannot tell you more!”

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We don’t need no education?

“Natural winemaking” is taking South Africa by storm. Whatever that means. The only people who call it “Natural winemaking” are the ones who don’t practice it, which is odd, because generally it’s used condescendingly, as if the “Natural winemakers” are making wine with hemp barrels soothed by the vibrations (that’s an important hippy word) of a moonlit Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s also odd because it implies somehow someone else is making wine “unnaturally”, which brings to mind some Nazi-Indiana Jones scene: somewhere deep in a bunker in the Dyatlov Pass, neon blue light bulbs flash on and off in an otherwise darkened room, drums beat,  Robert Parker chants lines from the Necronomicon in baritone and summons a batch of first fill wooded Cabernet from the netherworld – 96 points, should’ve chanted louder or culled a goat for those extra 4 points! Obviously this pertains to the capacity of your imagination, and obviously it’s ludicrous. We both know both camps make excellent and crappy wine.

Now that I have built a wall of preference equity, I shall assert my opinion; today I will take a dig at Natural/Minimal intervention wine. The idea occurred to me in some sort of jolting epiphany. I was trying to memorise the structure of a wood tannin (a taste chemical derived from wood often found in wine), and was struck by a sense of futility. I’ve spent four years learning chemical and biological movements in wine; furthermore, millions of Rands, Euros and Dollars have gone to yeast profiling, wine chemistry and Oenological research. Yet, this minimal intervention movement, whilst not rendering this research and technology useless, certainly makes it seem more like connoisseur’s trivia than practical knowledge. In a perfect scenario, the grapes would arrive healthy, and minus a timely addition of sulphur, all the heavy lifting is done by the microorganisms in the wine (and the vineyard workers who carried the crates).

As an example: your wine is starting to smell cheesy. Stick it in a barrel and let it sit for 12 months. Bob’s your Uncle; the smell blew off. Sure, it’s interesting to know that yeast produces toxic medium-chain fatty acids that smell like feet, but if we don’t even know what yeast species it is, and we’re not going to do anything (interventionally) about it, then who cares?

I suppose this is not an argument against Natural winemaking, but it does slowly seem to be turning into one opposing wine education. Whilst I sit here, I can think of a few winemakers off the top of my head who possess little to no formal wine education. Furthermore, I can think of many well known winemakers who probably use a mild fraction of the oenological knowledge they paid so many “Madibas” for in tertiary education.

It should be noted that my argument is very contextual (which sort of makes it bullet-proof). I think it would only be possible to make wine in this (scientifically) hands off approach in a small scale boutique winery. When the grapes are healthy, space and time are flexible, it’s much easier to make sure things run smoothly and no wine is spoilt. Conversely, as a friend of mine always says, co-op winemakers are the real winemakers, in the literal sense. They handle vast quantities of, often, very poor quality wine, diseased grapes, massive volumes worth millions in damages should spoilage occur.

Basic (and often the best) winemaking is a recipe, with as few ingredients as possible. As much as no one wants to admit they follow a recipe. It is a consumable food product after all, though the calories are about as functional as eating a pile of paper. The more ingredients/faulty ingredients require more background knowledge to handle, but as long as the grapes are good and the facility is well managed, the wine largely makes itself.

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Pinot Grigio with Personality

By Noelle Allen. Noelle is currently working through WSET Level 4 and starting her thesis at the Wine School of Philadelphia, where she also teaches private Wine 101 classes. 

We all know that the same grapes produce very different wines, depending on a number of factors including country of origin, vintage, weather and growing conditions, and production techniques, to name a few. Grape taste spectrums are mind blowing.

Early in my wine career, I generally thought of Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris (they’re the same grape; ‘Grigio’ is Italian and ‘Gris’ is French and they both mean ‘gray’ — pinot means pinecone — but the two styles can be very different) as maybe zesty and florally, acidic and flinty, but overall, just, really… unexciting. Flat and thin. I had come to that conclusion even before hearing other wine nerds speak dismissively of the little gray pine cone.

And then I was presented with a bottle of Pinot Grigio by a wonderful producer in northeast Italy. I had no idea that I was about to go on a little journey.

The wine tumbled into the glass, and it even sounded good. No glugs or disjointment. It simply swirled around then settled in like a pro. It was a clear and bright lemon yellow. The aroma made itself known almost immediately, and what an amazing combination. Banana, pear, and almond. The inhale was gorgeous.

On the tongue, the wine was full bodied and citrusy, – full bodied, hmmm – and had a long, minerally finish. The weight and balance were absolutely splendid. To put it in the vernacular of my maturity level during those times, the wine was amazeballs. Any notions of flatness or thinness drained away, just like the wine from my glass and eventually the bottle, as my friends and I happily talked and sipped.

Afterward, intrigued, I visited the producer’s website. After digging a bit, and even ambitiously translating Italian into English, I came across the technical description that included a ‘Dry Extract’ count. Specific to this wine, it was 19.8 grams per liter. What is dry extract? And is 19.8 g/l a lot or a little or normal?

Quite simply, dry extracts (DE) are the powdery solids that are left over after taking away the sugar, water, ethanol, and acid from wine, all of which are major components. (To separate out these items, you will likely need a centrifuge, so good luck with that if you try it on your own.) Dry extracts are made up of minerals and trace elements such as potassium, phosphorus, iron, calcium, and magnesium; all of which come from the soil in which the vine grows and affect the biology of the plant and its resulting fruit.

The grapes for this particular wine had grown in loam, a soil type made of silt, clay, and sand, all of which are collections of minerals that produce and capture different quantities of given elements. While some argue that minerals do not have aromas, given that they are inorganic and non-volatile, others say that they do give off definite sensory perceptions, whether through weight, aroma, flavor, texture, or some synergistic


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Kobus Van Der Merwe – White Winemaker at Kwv

Q Where do you originate ? 

“I was born in Montagu in the Klein Karoo  on 1st March 1983.”

Q Where did you study ?

“I was fortunate to go to Elsenburg Agricultural college where I was successful in obtaining a Diploma in Viticulture and Cellar technology which is another way of saying Oenology.”

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

“I wouldn’t say so, but I do trial a lot on experimental basis  to find the sweet spot to express terroir as best as possible,”

Q How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“Oh dear, not nearly as much as I want to, but it is very important and key to be involved as much as possible to produce wines in the style and quality wanted. At KWV we are lucky to have some truly expert viticulturists who are very good at what they do.”

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

“I have a lot of passion for white varieties. I spend a lot of time experimenting with techniques on different varieties and to determine the versatility of each and the different outcomes are very satisfactory.”

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

“When travelling in New Zealand , especially the Marlborough region, I became very fond of their white wines. The winemakers were very open with what they did but too many to single out any particular person.”

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

“ To see how much the wine lovers enjoy  my wine and have the stock totally sold out well before the next vintage.”

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

In a humble manner. “I have no big secrets but try to be innovative in my winemaking and try all possible ways even if it sounds stupid ! You never know how a new idea will work out and , at the end,  it could become a great success.”

Q How important is modern winemaking equipment in your winemaking ? 

“We all know just how expensive modern winemaking equipment is. However, if it can work to it’s optimum it can have a very positive effect in terms of quality and also reduce losses. If a piece of equipment can enhance quality and minimise losses and through this generate payback, it is a must to have in the winery.”

Q How did you get interested in winemaking ?

Answer came with great enthusiasm.  “I grew up on a wine farm and the best time of the year was during the harvest when I helped my father to transport  the grapes to the winery. I was fascinated by the winery and all it’s machinery and the whole process of winemaking.” He continued with obvious enthusiasm.  “I bombarded my father with questions and he encouraged me  and he developed my great passion for winemaking.” And then “After school I was lucky to be accepted by Elsenberg to do my studies  and then set off  to gain experience locally and then overseas  to New Zealand and California. “All of which has helped me enormously.”

Q What about the future ?

“I don’t see myself in any other business but the wine industry. If winemaking has flowed in your veins you will never get rid of it !” “Then I have a gorgeous wife and a beautiful 10 month old daughter to look after.”

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Winter is Coming…

There’s nothing quite like an ice cold glass of Sauvignon blanc on a hot summer’s day in the scorching February sun. Or the smell of uncorking a full-bodied Cab on a rainy winter’s day in the Cape. Like food, wine also has seasonality and we often prefer drinking certain wines during certain times of the year.

Summer is all about fresh and fruity and lends itself to young, vibrant wines with bold flavours of fruits or greenness. Whites are usually at the order of the day and where I come from, Sauvignon blanc most certainly tops the list. Sauvignon blanc vines love the cool summer sea breeze almost as much as we do and the distinct green characteristics that arise from it is its golden stamp of approval. A gentle, unwooded Chardonnay comes in close second. Fruity, flowery notes makes it a pleasure to drink as the sun sets over the horizon. Nowadays, dry Rosé’s are also a popular choice with their succulent strawberry aromas and their light pink hue that is reminiscent of the tinted colour of the sky during sunset.

Autumn makes its appearance as the yellowing of leaves start creeping through our vineyards. Beautiful tones of brown and orange and red sweep across the rolling landscapes of the winelands and introduces the perfect weather to start opening our favourite red wines. Second to none for me is a light and lovely Merlot. It’s perfect for those early autumn days when the sun starts setting earlier and the nights are becoming cooler. And if you are not quite ready to start drinking red, a chilled glass of Chenin can be just as nice. The tropical fruit flavours we find in our South African Chenins lets you make the most of the last warm weather in April and May.

As the last vine leaves fall to the ground around the month of June, winter has firmly established itself in the Cape and we all like to curl up in front of the fireplace with warm, cosy blankets and big bowls of steaming, hearty soup. The glistening, red-hot coals ignite a spark in me, because I know it is time to bring out the big guns-  our favourite full-flavoured, bold and beautiful red wines. Shiraz, Cab, Pinotage- whatever your preference, it is sure to warm you up from the inside. And on those extra cold and rainy nights a sweet fortified wine is the answer to all our wine prayers. A delicate muscadel can sooth you to sleep almost as gently as a mother’s lullaby.

The sweet singing songs of birds and the bountiful blossoms of flowers marks the arrival of my personal favourite season- spring. The soft kiss of the morning sun and the smell of jasmine in the air, awakens the senses and you feel as fresh as the morning dew itself. Opening the front door is a similar experience to opening a bottle of Gewürztraminer- the smell is intoxicating and fills your heart with sunshine. Soft, subtle flowery notes makes this wine ideal for this time of the year. It also pairs well with lighter-style foods that come into season, like stir-fries and fresh seafood. You cannot leave a good dry Riesling off the patio table around this time. Its perfumed aroma is so inviting it might even attract the bustling bumble bees for a sip. Paired with a delicious quiche Lorraine, it makes for the perfect garden lunch.

Whatever the weather, we know wine will always be in season. The versatility of our favourite drink makes it possible to drink it any time of the year, come rain or shine- it’s always time for wine.

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Managing skin contact during red wine fermentation

by Charl Theron - 

Skin contact is a basic requirement during red winemaking, unless other techniques like thermovinification are used to extract colour from the skins. Different factors like the duration of skin contact, cultivar, fermentation temperature and the ways in which skin contact is applied, play an important role in the result that is eventually obtained.

During red wine fermentation the formed carbon dioxide carries the skins to the surface of the container. This is known as the cap and the management of it will determine the extraction of the colour and tannins from the skins, which will eventually determine the colour and taste of the wine. The correct management of the cap will also influence the potential development of detrimental micro-organisms, determine an equal temperature in the cap and fermenting juice, promote the alcoholic fermentation by the addition of air (oxygen) and prevent the drying out of the skins.

The handling of grapes after destemming plays an important role in the onset of alcoholic fermentation. Vigorous crushing will cause the extraction of more astringent and bitter tannins, because the concentration of insoluble solids is increased by it. Extraction methods causing the damage or breaking of the seeds, must also be prevented. Minimal crushing of the berries prolongs the alcoholic fermentation, decreases phenolic extraction and also increases the fruity flavours of the wine. The volatile flavour compounds in the fermenting juice can also be lost at higher temperatures, because they are removed by the formed carbon dioxide and volatilise more at higher fermentation temperatures. In the case of whole bunch fermentations, some of the flavours are retained in the unbroken berries and only released into the wine after the vigorous fermentation.

The management of skin fermentation during red winemaking differs between red cultivars and techniques like pumpovers, punch-downs or cold soaking are consequently applied differently. In case of Pinot noir, grapes are only destemmed or whole bunch fermentation is used. Although the same principles are sometimes applied with Cabernet Sauvignon, berries are sometimes only broken by loose crusher rollers. The application of cold soaking is also an important principle decision, which needs to be made for red winemaking. It comprises the cooling of crushed grapes or bunches to such a temperature that the onset of alcoholic fermentation is delayed. The initial colour and flavour extraction from the grapes is consequently in an alcohol-free medium and coarse tannins, bitterness or excessive astringency are prevented. Tannins are then eventually only extracted afterwards by the formed alcohol. If spontaneous alcoholic fermentation is also preferred, cold soaking will create an opportunity for such yeasts to initiate the fermentation. In case of Pinot noir, cold soaking is advantageous if it is maintained at 10°C for four to five days. In order to limit spoilage organisms and excessive oxidation in open fermenters during cold soaking, the surface of the fermenters can be covered with a plastic sheet over the cap and a sulphur dioxide solution and dry ice can be used twice daily to exclude air. During cold soaking the cap must not be punched down more than twice daily. In case of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, where colour extraction is usually sufficient, cold soaking is applied for a shorter period …


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