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New World Wine Maker Blog

An Academic Foray Into Complexity in Wine: An Analysis of Language

By Becca Yaemans of The Academic Wino.

You see it often in wine tasting notes: “the wine is complex”, or something along those lines. But what does “complexity” in wine mean? Is it complex because of the number of compounds contributing to the flavors/aromas and structure of the wine? Or is it complex because of what we perceive to be tasting/feeling when we drink the wine? Or is it a combination of these or something completely different? The answer isn’t straightforward, with the definition of complexity in wine being different for different people.

For many in the wine business, complexity in wine refers to the combination of flavors and aromas in a wine evolving over the course of a tasting session. The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), “complexity is a desired feature in a wine and one which can result from fruit character alone or from a combination of primary, secondary and tertiary aromas and flavors.” However, it’s not as simple as plainly stating that a wine in and of itself is complex.  WSET doctrine continues, “only use the word ‘complex’ with context. It is not enough to say whether a wine is complex or not; you have to explain what provides the complexity.”

In academic literature, complexity in wine is an ongoing topic of study and one that has been met with mixed results. In general, studies seem to support the idea that complexity in wine is related to the number of aromas/flavors, balance, finish, etc., though understanding of the concept seems to differ between trained professionals and the average consumer (which shouldn’t be too surprising).

A new exploratory study, available online now and in print in the September 2018 issue of Food Quality and Preference, aimed to investigate how complexity in wine is perceived by “social drinkers”, with an attempt to identify specifically what characteristics were associated with the concept of complexity in wine.


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Q&A that turned into food for thought

Have you ever had to convince someone to like wine?

Recently I had the opportunity to talk to Matric students about the wonderful industry we are a part of. Some of them had already made up their minds: winemaking was not for them. Others couldn’t take Oenology for religious regions, and others still displayed no interest because they have simply never seen or tasted wine.

They had many questions where I actually had to contemplate why we do what we do and how we do it, and why certain traditions/trends still exist.

Why do you study what you study? When I was younger my parents presented me with a glass of wine to taste. Looking back now it was a full bodied blend with good fruit concentration and well integrated tannins, but to my young uneducated palate it was burny, spicy and generally just unpleasant. I read the label and it read as follows: An elegant full bodied red with flavours of mulberry, cranberry and vanilla oak spices. I remember being furious! False advertising! “if I were a winemaker I would make sure that my wine tastes like exactly what it says on the bottle”. This curiosity and outrage stayed with me so when it came time to choosing my major it was an easy choice. I now know the specifics and technicalities of wine making and my palate has developed to the point where I could probably taste those berries and vanilla in the wine, but I often ask myself: if I had enjoyed that wine, would I still be studying what I study?

What was harvest like? Harvest was one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced in my life. There are many things in theory that they do not teach you about the practice of wine making, for example the hours, no one tells you that sometimes you will have eighteen or even twenty hour days. No one tells you how heavy barrels can be or how many times you will have to measure the balling and stir the same barrel. And yet they also leave out how satisfying it is to walk into the cellar each morning and smell the progress of the different tanks, or when a barrel that has been lagging finally finishes fermenting. See harvest is something you have to go an experience.

What are the lectures like? Well first year is very general, going through the sciences and maths basics is tedious but very important and not to be underestimated. The highlight of first year is starting with sensorial analysis, learning how to taste and drink wine. Isolating the flavours and flavonoids in class is still one of the highlights of my university career.

What is industry like? Our industry is romantic and industrious at the same time. It has untapped potential that has a broad horizon. As graduates we can go into Winemaking, Viticulture, wine marketing, being a sommelier, wine buying and selling, biotechnology, not to mention the massive opportunities we have in the hospitality industry and that is just to name a few. You will learn a lot very quickly and the more you know the more you realise how little you know.

What is your favourite part about your course? Wine making is difficult and challenging. It forces you to think on your feet and solve problems more quickly than they appear. At the end of the day holding something in your hands that you have followed through from the beginning to the end, that you can enjoy with your friends and family, it is one of the most satisfying feelings that you can experience.

I don’t know if I managed to inspire any of them to study what I do. Some of them have never tasted wine before and when they asked me what wine tasted like I thought to myself:  ‘how do you explain a rainbow to someone who cannot see’. Wine is as complex and diverse as the wine industry. I am proud to be a part of it.

I guess I won’t know if I convinced any of them to study Viticulture and Oenology, but the experience taught me that sometimes it is important to just sit back with a good glass of wine and take stock of what it is we really do, why we do it and more importantly how we are preparing potential winemakers and viticulturists for this hard, crazy, brilliant industry we work in.

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Meet Wynand Lategan, Winemaker at Lanzerac Wine Estate

Q. When and where were you born ?

“I was born in the Stellenbosch hospital on 16 August 1969.”

Q. Where did you study ?

“At first I did a B. Comm and Honours in Journalism at Stellenbosch University. After four years of journalism I had decided it was not really for me. I had always dreamt of farming one day but my father was an academic at University of Stellenbosch it was never really a realistic option. Then,  after doing various courses at the Cape Wine Academy the seed was sown  and it dawned on me that a career as a winemaker actually ticked all my boxes ! Creativity, farming, marketing, business, working  with nature then doing it all close to the sea my passion of surfing could also be satisfied ! So at the age of 30 I enrolled at Elsenburg where I finished the diploma in winemaking technology in 2002.

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

“No, not really, during the years  I have learned to trust what the vineyards say a lot more . In the cellar  I also try not to overdo things, working softly and let the grapes speak. With nature, I am still learning everyday.”

Q. How involved do you get in the Vineyard ?

“I try to be involved as much as I can, luckily we have a relatively small team and reasonably small amount of vineyards so myself and the vineyard manager,  Danie Malherbe work closely together and make every  decision in the vineyard that will have an influence on wine quality, together.”

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

“Of course, Pinotage is an obvious one because Lanzerac was the first name to bottle and label a Pinotage in the world. Also Pinotage is a very hands on variety. Then Cabernet sauvignon is totally at home in Stellenbosch and almost “makes itself” and so needs minimal intervention.”

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

“I have been influenced by a lot of winemakers. I look to them all and  listen because there is always something to learn. Every region also brings something to the party. So I prefer to look and listen to everyone and everything and then find my own path.”

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

After some deep thought “Probably 5 stars in the platter  last year  for our Pionier Pinotage  2015. By the way, the first 5 stars for Lanzerac. To work at a historic property like Lanzerac is a highlight in itself.”

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

“I have learned  to trust the vineyards and our terrior and to look and listen to nature is very important to me. I try to find balance in everything.”

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

“It plays a role to make your life as a winemaker easier, but the most important thing is your vineyard. Some of the best wines in the world are made in very basic cellars.”

Q. What of the future ?

“As a Stellenbosch bred and born boytjie  I appreciate  what this unique Jonkershoek Valley has offered over the years  for the South  African wine industry and its history. I believe  the South African wine industry in terms of quality and world class wines are only just beginning to immerge. I think we are in for a very exciting ride over the next couple of  years.”

Q. You have done some interesting things in recent vintages ? 

“Yes, Lanzerac might have heritage and tradition but that does not mean I cannot innovate and develop new wines.  This can be seen in my Keldermeester  Versameling.”

Q. You used Afrikaans on your labels ?

“Well I am proudly South African and Afrikaans. The Europeans use their own languages on their labels so why not us ?”

Q. Where do you source the grapes for these wines ?

“I go to where I can get the very best for the particular variety.”  And continues “I might well do different wines in different vintages.”

Q. What have you done so far ? 

“There are three wines. The first is  Prof 2016, Bergpad 2016 and  Dok 2015 “.

Please explain …

“Well Prof is the cornerstone of the mini range and refers to Professor Perold who developed Pinotage. He crossed Pinot Noir and Cinsaut which in those days was known as “Hermitage”, hence the name Pinotage.” “So what I have done is made a wine that is 60 % Cinsaut and 40 % Pinot noir to see what the good prof had in mind. “

Q. And Bergpad ?

“This is a Pinot Blanc from a single vineyard in Jonkershoek and the name is from the mountain path that leads from Coetzenberg to Lanzerac and walked and run by thousands of students over the years. Then, of course, Dok, is named after the late “Doc” Craven of rugby fame who was a frequent visitor to Lanzerac with great dog “Bliksem” ! This is a Malbec also from a single vineyard in Jonkershoek.”

Q. And that is not all ?

“No , we have used very non-traditional packaging which is elegant and sophisticated. The white labels are embossed with the names and info rather than printed.”

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Spring has sprung – Daisies, Darling and Drinking

It’s spring across the southern hemisphere, the sun is trying its best to peak out from behind the thin grey clouds that hang over Cape Town while the Suzuki engines are purring in anticipation for the day’s adventure. My parents recently joined the Suzuki 4×4 club, being an adventure fanatic, I couldn’t resist the offer when they asked me if I’d like to join them.

The day started out at the entrance to Groote Post Farm, where the Suzukis rolled in one by one. We had arrived in the Grand Vitara, thinking there would be a few other Suzukis slightly bigger than the Jimny joining us, we were sorely mistaken. Being the only non-Jimny Suzuki in the club, naturally we stood out like a sore thumb, but the crew were welcoming nonetheless. Mr Duckitt (Yes, that Duckitt) started off the morning by explaining to us that the farm has a large area of natural renosterveld, and through the clearing of alien plant species such as port jackson and rooikrans, they have encouraged a huge bloom of natural flora. The wild flowers on this farm sure gave the west-coast national park a run for its money! With splashes of bright orange, dainty pinks and purples and sunshine yellows, it was hard not to be blown away by the beauty of the flowers. The sun decided to grace us with its presence at about 11:30 am, allowing for the flowers to be viewed in their full, colourful glory.

As we turned our heads to face the daisies while driving past, the white flowery fields could easily have been mistaken for a bit of misplaced snow. We slowly drove along the track through the game camp on the farm, as the farm owner Nick Pentz took the lead. Wildebeest and Zebra were scattered in small herds throughout the camp, with a few Bontebok grazing happily between the brightly coloured daisies. The Springbokkies were very alert and unfortunately took off as soon as they saw us approaching however we were able to sit quietly and watch a few of the youngsters playfully prong and pounce around.

We stopped at the top of a hill that overlooked most of the farm, where Nick enthusiastically explained to us that while the farm may be well known for its wine, other crops such as Lupins and Triticale are also actively grown on the farm. He went on to explain the importance of crop rotation as well as how important it is to conserve indigenous flora on the farm. The farm actively works on the removal of alien trees, during the process they have decided not to burn any removed plant material, instead they pile the material over their old growing area. This prevents regermination of any remaining roots while encouraging a small ecosystem through providing a habitat for small rodents, which eat the seeds of the alien plants. He then explained the layout of his vineyard blocks, as bystanders got very excited at the prospect of a sneaky wine tasting before we continued our journey.

Following the interesting talk presented by Nick, we headed towards the cellar, I was sure that excitement was buzzing all around as we made our way to the parking lot near the cellar. Low and behold, an entire tasting had been set up just for us! The scene was set by the surrounding farm buildings that boasted an old Cape Dutch style, a table was set below an old tree that shaded most of the lawn. A flight of wines were lined up, ready and waiting to be popped and cracked open.

Of the wines we tasted, the 2013 Riesling and the 2013 Merlot definitely stole the show. It became very evident that Groote Post wasn’t only passionate about conservation, but also about the wines they produce. Nick is also very clearly involved in all aspects of the farm’s activities, as he went on to explain the wine making process for each wine we tasted, despite not being the winemaker himself. It was incredibly refreshing to meet someone in the industry who is involved in all aspects of the viticulture, farming and winemaking processes.

After cleaning out the cellar’s 2013 Merlot wine stock, we finally headed to our next destination. We drove along a winding dirt road that lead us past a few farms that also had fields of flowers, bright pops of yellow and orange flickered by as we headed towards Darling. We ended off the tour at the Darling Wildflower show, where the smell of boerewors braais drifted through the music filled atmosphere, the beer and wine stands were the easiest to identify because there were crowds of people buzzing around the tents. All in all, it was a great day and a lovely adventure that I can’t wait to re-visit next year when the flowers pop up again.

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Meet Attie Louw – winemaker at Opstal Estate

Q. When and where were you born ?

“I was born in Cape Town on 23rd September 1984.”

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

“I was lucky enough to study at the University of Stellenbosch where I did a BSc Viticulture and Oenology.”

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

With some deep thought and then a smile. “No, nothing too special. I think I have a good mix between a sound scientific and some creative flair !”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“Not as much as I would like is the truth. It helps that in our set up at Opstal we have very reliable people in My Dad Stanley, my brother Zak and our long time farm manager, Gerhard, who spend their days in the vineyards.”  Then adds “Lucky souls !!”

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

Without hesitation “Chenin blanc for sure. The expression of this grape on different soils on our farm alone and through different conditions is continuous amazement to me.!”

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

A fairly serious answer “I really have a network of mentors. I probably learnt most from my Dad. His knowledge of our farm and the industry along with his practical ability are skills worth aspiring to. Then I also look up to my peers and fellow winemakers. I feel very comfortable in picking up the phone and discussing certain wines, techniques and ideas with friends in the industry, learning a lot from them in the process and here I should single out my good friend David Sadie who is always willing to share his knowledge.”

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

With a very serious expression “This is obviously an uncomfortable topic for a modest Afrikaans boytjie to talk about……if I have to name something I’d have to say the identification of Opstal as a wine destination and the effort of showing our Slanghoek terroir for chenin blanc in our old vine Carl Everson Single Vineyard wine and our other Chenin examples in both single varietal wines and Cape White blends.”

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

Again with a serious expression “It’s so difficult to have differentiating factor these days in such a competitive market other than the personalities involved. So with myself as with my father and the rest of my family involved, it is the heart and personality we put into and behind the wines that should add the difference. …….and, of course, being from Slanghoek!”

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

Almost matter of fact “Really not at all. We use the precious resources of time and personnel in such a way that we can plan well enough not to be drowning in grapes or juice during harvest, for instance.“

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The perfect pair?

There are many different wine pairings that we have come to know and enjoy. Food was made to go with wine and wine was made to go with food. Of course one can have the former or the latter but why would one deny themselves the pure art that forms on the palate when the two are combined. We have so many options presented to us as wine enthusiasts: Chocolate and wine, cheese and wine,  cupcake and wine, biltong and wine, ice cream and wine, toffee and wine, marshmallow and wine, Turkish delight and wine and the list goes on! There have even been sushi and wine and curry and wine pairings! But have you ever heard of music and wine pairing?

I had the pleasure of being invited to a music and wine pairing in Swartland. It was hosted in one of the oldest houses in the Riebeek valley. Stepping into it was like stepping back in time with a modern twist. A Fire burning in the library, the smell of old books and the creek of the hardwood floor.  Chairs set up in front of the Piano, modern art hung on the walls and good acoustics as the piano man nervously tinkled on some keys. I was tentative, music and wine?  How will this work, well let me tell you it’s not an experience I will soon forget.

The music was explained in great detail, the lifts the falls, the extensions and the keys the music was played in. All old classical pieces that were technical and impressive as well as enjoyable. He explained technical jargon:

Allegro – An Italian word referring to a quick and lively tempo. It generally has a very upbeat feel to it.

Baroque – Music ranging from the 1600s to around 1750 is generally described as belonging to the baroque era. Examples of baroque composers include Vivaldi, Bach and Handel.

Crescendo – A gradual increase in volume of the music.

Elegy – A piece of music that expresses grief or sorrow.

Forte – An instruction in sheet music to play loudly; often abbreviated as f.

Harmony – When several notes are played together to form chords in some type of progression, it is known as a harmony. In general, harmonies form a pleasing sound.

Key Signature – In sheet music, each section typically shows a key signature. The key signature is denoted as a combination of flats or sharps to indicate the key in which the piece should be played.

Largo – Largo, translated literally from Italian, means broad. In a musical context, it is an instruction to play slowly.

Legato – When notes are played legato, they are played smoothly so that they flow together seamlessly.

Mezzo – Mezzo means half, and it is used in conjunction with other words. For example, mezzo-forte would mean half as loud as normal.

Nocturne – A piece of music that is evocative of night-time moods, usually sleepy or romantic.

Piano – In music terminology, piano is not referring to the musical instrument but rather the way in which music is played. Piano means that it should be played softly. The word ‘piano’ can a suffix to indicate the degree of softness. Pianissimo (pp) means even softer.

Of course we are all here to read about wine, but it’s important to understand these terms so that you can understand how it pairs with the wine.

Pairing was 6 wines with 6 different pieces of music.  The first one was a White blend, lemon, pale and clear, tropical fruit with wood characteristics on the nose, a complex wine that evolves on the palate. This was paired with a complex piece of music that starts off light and simple but as you get to the middle of the piece it escalates into crescendo, this worked well with the wine as the vanilla and oak flavours developed on the middle of the palate. The music switched to legato as the finish developed on your palate, it was long and lingering and smooth.

A different wine we tried was a Shiraz, it was paired with a Nocturne. The Shiraz was dark and ruby, with cigar box and fresh red fruit on the nose, some caramel with a delicious and brooding dark chocolate on the palate. Perfectly paired with the Nocturne, it painted the image of a woman in a red velvet dress singing jazz in a highly esteemed restaurant. The Music evolved with the wine, some forte keys enhanced the tannins and the piece ending in Pianissimo which tickled on the keys just as the red fruit lingered on the palate for a long and pleasing finish.

An interesting experience that would be appreciated most by music lovers and wine lovers, whether it will become a trend or not is yet to be seen but can you imagine playing your sweetheart that perfect song that reminds you of them while sipping on an equally sweet Noble late harvest. There is so much potential in this idea, not only to enhance the image of the wine industry but also to support our local South African Musicians.

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