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New World Wine Maker Blog - winemaker interviews

Meet Michael van Niekerk, Cellarmaster & Viticulturist at Audacia

Q Where and when were your born ?

“Upington on 31st January 1983.”

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

“I studied at Elsenburg Agricultural College and obtained a Diploma in Oenology and Viticulture.”

Q How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“I am fully involved in the vineyard management and this contributes immensely when it comes to harvest time, regarding the quality of each block, tank, batch etc. “

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

A slightly hesitant answer “Yes and no.  I’m open to experiment which we have done with the “Audacia No Sulphur Added Range” however I am very much focused on traditional cultivar specific qualities in our traditional style wines. “

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

“Not really, but I do like the challenge that we have with Merlot in or area and South Africa in general.”

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

“No, not specifically, but I do believe that each harvest/vintage, locally and abroad, working with different winemakers helped me to form my own views and ultimately the style I pursue.”

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

“To be able to produce a product that people enjoy year after year. “

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

“We have being using Rooibos and Honey bush wood as natural preservatives since 2011, so we so we don’t use any SO2 in these wines. Recently we partnered with a pharmaceutical lab that extracts the polyphenols out of these woods to give us tannin that is very concentrated and high in very concentrated in natural anti-oxidants. The wooded wines used to have a distinct characteristic, but the new wines made with the tannins are just like any other traditional wines. “

Q How important is modern winemaking equipment in your winemaking ?

“It does not play a big part at all, the most modern piece of equipment we have is our second hand press. We spend most of our time in the vineyards with soil and canopy management to get the best grapes we can. That is where we gain most of our quality.”

Q. What else ? 

“I grew up on a sheep farm in the Northern Capeso I have definitely felt at home with the lower water levels the past few years. I matriculated in Upington then after Elsenburg I did vintages in Australia, California and Italy before I came back to settle in South Africa. We have all manner of current challenges from climate to sales and as South African producers we will need to become more and more adept at sorting out the   Challenges so as to still produce our superior products.”

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Meet Bertho Van Der Westhuizen, Cellar Master at Alto

Q. When and where were you born ?

“I was born into a winemaking family in Stellenbosch on 17th April 1980.”

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

“I attended the University of Stellenbosch where I did B.Sc in Oenology and Viticulture.”

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

“I don’t suppose so but I do try to be involved personally in every aspect of winemaking.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“Very.  The vineyard is also my baby as well as the winemaking but I do have some assistance.”

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

“Reds, both Bordeaux and Shiraz.”

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

“I love the red wine areas of France, Spain and Italy and I am sure visits to those countries have influenced me. I plan to visit South America soon so we shall see what influence that will have.”

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

“Being able to make wine from the wonderful grapes of the Helderberg here in Stellenbosch.”

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

“I don’t think of secrets. For me, if there is any secret, it is the basic of good grapes. Good grapes are the beginning and end to quality wine. “

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

“We only do reds at Alto and have a pretty normal setup, but a mechanical sorter  does add  something. I would like to develop on this by soon being able to have having an optical system. “

Q. And in general ? 

“I can surely say we work in the world’s best environment and everyday one needs to be thankful for that. I was born and grew up on Neethlingshof, where my father was winemaker. He was also born there.  We moved to Alto in 2000 where my father also became the winemaker.  My first vintage at Alto was in 2003.  After that I was a year at Citrusdal then a good innings at Kleine Zalze followed by thee vintages at Boschendal where I also got involved with some DGB wines.  Who knows what the future holds?  I want to create wines from this great Helderberg terroir that will stand up against the best in the world!”

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Meet Charles Williams – Winemaker at De Toren Private Cellar

Q. When and where were you born ? 

“I was born on 10th January 1985 at Kakamas on the Orange River in the Northern Cape.”

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

“I did a BSc Agric at University of Stellenbosch, 2004 to 2007 and then did a post grad, BSc Hons Agric (Viticulture) in 2008.”

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

“I believe winemaking starts in the vineyard. My approach is to really get to know my soils, vines and grapes. Once you do this it becomes very easy to harvest grapes at their peak complexity which in turn allows onto take a very natural, minimum interventional approach in the cellar.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

With enthusiasm “Extremely! The French have a beautiful term: Vigneron which directly translated is Winegrower. I find this a very appropriate word to describe crafting fine wines.

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

“I love the classics….but have a special love for Cabernet Franc and Merlot. These are two varieties that demands precision in viticulture and winemaking, but nothing beats them  if done well.”

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

“I believe one can and should learn something new every day. For that reason I had a great amount of influencers. I love discussing nature and its impact on vines and wines. Particular regions that really left an impression on myself would include Napa Valley and, of course, Bordeaux, especially Pomerol.

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

“To win prizes and get good ratings is always great. I would have to say my greatest achievement comes in smaller packages. Like a vineyard strategy that pays off and forming   long lasting friendships with clients turned to be good friends.  Making wine that people thoroughly enjoy is the ultimate prize. For me the biggest compliment is when, once in a while, you meet foreigners who were so intrigued by our wines that they decided to build a trip to RSA around exploring the wines further.”

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

“Stay true to place and time. That is what makes one unique.”

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

“I prefer to keep it quite simple.  We work with small open top fermenters, use punch downs as our extraction method and prefer to use only gravity in transporting our wines. I am, however, a firm believer in protecting the inherent quality of the grapes. This starts by only selecting the very best, a painstakingly slow process with up to 23 people. If you have good grapes in the cellar, half the battle is won.”

Q. What about yourself and the future ? 

“I was born and raised in a small farming community and grew up to have an immense love for nature. I completed my studies in 2008, focus being on viticulture and received the great opportunity to be employed by De Toren Private Cellars as assistant Winemaker.  During these years I was privileged to be surrounded by a great amount of forward thinking individuals who helped shape my winemaking philosophy.  I also had the privilege to do a harvest at the world renowned Napa Valley winery, Screaming Eagle which further cemented my views on wine growing. Looking forward the goal is always to produce gracious wines, and in my belief this stems from healthy sustainable soils.  A major focus of mine is to puzzle together where nature and winegrowing marries to yield the most expressive, complex grapes and wines.”

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Meet Daniel Keulder, winemaker at Nitida Cellars

Q. Where and when were you born ? 

“I was born in Malmsbury on 9th September 1981.

Q. Where did you study ?  

“I studied at University of Stellenbosch and achieved a B.Sc. Agric Viticulture and Oenology . After that I decided to do my M.Sc. in Oenology on commercial tannin additions and their influence on red wine quality!”

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

“I think every winemaker has his own very unique approach to winemaking. A couple of philosophies I do have  is that you always need  to get the basics right first ; The planning  is just as important  as the plan; your footsteps are the  best fertiliser for  any project, and lastly,  Winemaking  is not the making of but the expression of the terroir. “

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“Very much. Here at Nitida I look after the vineyards as well as making the wine.  I believe that in the long run the biggest influence a winemaker has on his wine is done in the vineyards.”

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

“Working in the Durbanville area it has to be Sauvignon Blanc! However, I have a very soft spot for Riesling and pinot noir as well.”

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

“As a winemaker I think it is very important to learn and ask advice from as many other winemakers as possible. There is one winemaker I need to mention and that is Boela Gerber at Groot Constantia, where I learned all the basic philosophies and techniques of winemaking.”

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

“The successful launch of three new high end products at Nitida. The Golden Orb Sauvignon Blanc, The Tinkery (an experimental label) and The Grande Matriarch MCC which has to be right up there! Other than these recent releases the recognition from by the various wine industry awards has been great.”

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

“Trust the history of your vineyards and always go with your gut feeling!”

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

“I always joke that I had three things in the cellar that you can plug into a wall socket and the rest is done by hand but times have changed and I have slightly more “modern” winemaking equipment in the cellar today. I still like to keep things as basic and simple equipment wise as possible.”

Q. What would you like to add ? 

“I was lucky enough to take a gap of three years making beer at a microbrewery in England after my university studies. After that it was full time winemaking and then meeting my wonderful wife, Julie, and a little later three additions to our family which has all enriched my life.  For the future I would like to keep on making wines that I love drinking and hopefully spend a couple more harvests in European cellars.”

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Meet Stuart Botha, winemaker at Tokara

Q.  When and where were you born ? 

“I was born in Durban, South Africa in 1985.”

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

“I studied winemaking and viticulture at Elsenburg Agricultural College, qualifying with a B.Agric Viticulture and Oenology in 2006.”

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

With a smile “That is a really subjective question.  I wouldn’t say that I am wildly different. I do like to experiment though, and that is where new and interesting discoveries are made. I also like to stay on the forefront when it comes to new technology. If I can implement something to make better wines, I’ll do it. “

Q. How involved do you get   in the vineyard ? 

“Getting involved with the vineyard and having a good synergy between viticulture and winemaking are imperative. The two go hand in hand. So many stylistic outcomes in wines rely heavily on practices that take place in the vineyard. That being said, I like to be very involved in the vineyard.”

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

“I am a big fan of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.”

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

“I wouldn’t say by a particular wine maker but I draw inspiration from other winemakers all the time, through general discussions and sharing of ideas.  It’s what makes the industry so great to be part of. I did two harvests in St. Emilion, France and that really did have a huge influence on me.”

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

“I have many achievements that I am incredibly proud of although winning the Trophy for the Best Shiraz at the International Wine and Spirit with my Eagle’s Nest Shiraz 2009 was a definite highlight.”

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

“I don’t suppose any really. I just do the basics as well as I can. “

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

“I have quite a modern cellar, and I am always looking for something that will assist me to make even better wines or even something new or different.  I believe that modern equipment and technology definitely play a role in making better wines. In the same breath, however, I am cautious not to take it too far, as it can sometimes lead to generic outcomes. It’s imperative to have a point of difference,”

Q. Anything else you would like to add ? 

“Following my studies, I joined Constantia Glen as an assistant winemaker. During my time there was when I journeyed to St Emilion to take part in two harvests. One at Chateau Bellefort Belclair and the other at Chateau Trianon. Where I obtained valuable experience. My first job as head winemaker was at Eagles Nest, where I was lucky enough to open their brand new winery.  I had an incredible ten harvests there and am proud to   have been part of growing the fledging winery into the incredible brand it is today.  While there I also explored the wine regions in Australia, France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland gaining knowledge and tasting extensively.”

Q. And now ? 

“In September 2017 I joined the winemaking team at Tokara on the Hellshoogte in Stellenbosch which is world renowned for consistently producing some of South Africa’s finest wines, It has been a fantastic start and I am thoroughly enjoy working with the full array of Bordeaux varieties in this ultra-modern winery.

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Meet Riandri Visser, Winemaker at Cape Point Vineyards

Q. When and where were you born ? 

“I was born in Bellville Cape Town on 29th November 1989.”

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

“I did winemaking and viticulture at Elsenburg Agricultural College and qualified in 2012.”

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

A very positive answer. “Yes, I believe each winemaker  has a unique approach  to winemaking  because  we were all  influenced  and inspired by  wines, cellars and winemakers, and educational institutions at different times. Techniques  are changing , products are changing  and don’t forget  our climate is changing.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“Very involved  but not nearly as much as  I want to. I am in the vineyards every day. I have a very good relationship with our farm manager and our farm workers. It is important  to be involved  in every decision  and to physically work with your vines in order to manage your wine.”

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

“Yes I do, but I also prefer  to work with other varieties  depending on which areas they come from. I work  mostly with Sauvignon Blanc, I respect  the variety  and wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t enjoy working with it.”.

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

“Yes, seeing that I work with Sauvignon Blanc, I would say Sancerre has had a great impact.”

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

“Gaining the trust of my team.”

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

“At Cape Point Vineyards We focus on two varieties, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. We have a unique terroir , it is cool and windy and our vines are very close to the ocean and this makes our wines different . It is no secret that we use  the two varieties together.”

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

“It is very important.  We work with Sauvignon Blanc and it is a time sensitive grape, so we need to work quickly. We don’t have fancy  set up , we just have equipment  that will help us express the best qualities in our wines.”

Q. You mentioned that Sancerre was influential in your development. How did that happen ? 

“I completed my degree at Elsenburg in 2012 and travelled with a few classmates  through Burgundy, Loire, Sancerre, Champagne and Germany. It was an educational trip  to taste and experience international wines. I have been back to Sancerre  on a more focussed trip visiting various producers.”

Q. What other wineries have you worked at ?

“On returning from Europe I worked at Piekenierskloof and the in Stellenbosch before joining  Cape Point Vineyards in 2014. As for the future  I would love to continue my studies in wine and taste as many wines as possible. However I need to earn an income.  The studies and experience will come.”

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