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New World Wine Maker Blog - winemaker interviews

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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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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Meet Norman Ketelo – Winemaker at De Grendel

Q When and where  were you born ? 

“I was born at Lady Frere in the Eastern Cape on 1st March 1875.”

Q Where did you study ?

“ I have no formal education in winemaking but started in the industry as a cellar hand with Charles Hopkins at the Graham Beck cellar in Franschhoek. While there I did Skop 1,2 and 3 and achieved “Circle of Excellence”. “In 2004 I moved to Meerendal but in 2005 Charles Hopkins invited him to join the new cellar at De Grendel.”

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

After some careful thought. “I think I am pretty much set in the way I have been taught so I guess what I make is in the cellar style so it is different to others. However, I am always prepared to learn  and put into practice what might improve my winemaking.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“I suppose not as much as I should but then we have expert viticultural people. However I worked an entire year, 2000 in the vineyard at Bellingham and got to appreciate just how important it is to understand the vineyard.”

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

“That is difficult to answer as every variety presents it’s own challenges  and rewards.  I think that Merlot and Sauvignon blanc would be my favourites.”

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

“Obviously Charles Hopkins has been a huge influence in my understanding of wine. He also took me on a visit to Burgundy which was my first overseas winemaking experience. This will always stand as a major influence in my development.”

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

“I havn’t got there yet. To me everything is still an on going learning experience.”

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

“No, not really but I am a great believer in terroir  and I ensure I am guided by that total concept.

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

“The equipment is very important and plays a major part in the efficiency but it is the grape that is the most important thing.”

Q. What would your dream be for the future ?

“Wow, my greatest dream would be to be winemaker in my own cellar !”

Q. Any other thoughts ? 

“I find it strange that my Dad worked most of his life with Douglas Green in their security and then I became a winemaker working my way up from a cellar hand.  It goes to show that if you can motivate yourself and develop nothing can stop your progress.”

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A word with Andries Blake of Klawer Wine Cellars


Q. When and where were you born ?

“I was born on 10th January 1967 in Wellington and grew up on a wine farm.”

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

“I went to Elsenberg Agricultural College and did cellar technology. I did various marketing and management courses through the University of Stellenbosch. I also did all the official wine judging certificates which enabled me to judge on all the various competitions.”

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

He answers as if that was a dumb question !  “Obviously Chenin Blanc and Pinotage.”

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

“When I first started working I was an assistant winemaker to the legendary Dassie Smith of Rooiberg Wines.  He taught me discipline, the importance of hygiene  in the cellar and  to pay attention to detail.” After a little thought “ Ja, Dassie was a great and very positive influence.”

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

“The first ABSA Top Ten Pinotage Competition  when my pinotage under the Swartland label was one of the top ten. Then when I started  my own brand, Blake Family Wines, our maiden vintage, Blake’s  Amethyst 2011 was selected as one of the ABSA  Perold Top Five Cape Blend winners.”

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

“ Not really a secret, but attention to detail, hard work and a passion is the golden key.”

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

“It is very important, but it is not the only important thing. Things well away from equipment such as Terroir, good winemaking practices  and attention to detail are all more important than equipment.”

Q. You have recently made some interesting changes  to your career ?

“Yes, after 19 vintages at Swartland I started my own brand of Blake Family Wines. Then in November 2013 I left Swartland and took up an interesting challenge as CEO of Klawer Wines. I still do my own brand.

Q. Of the future ?

“ I think wine prices will increase drastically over the next few years as there will be a shortage of quality wine. I intend to be in the quality wine business. !” After some thought he adds “Marinda, my wife, and I are very proud of the success of our wines and they are named after gems, Tourmaline and Amethyst, and we intend to treat them as such.”

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MEET RUDGER VAN WYK – WINEMAKER AT STARKE-CONDE WINES

Q. When and where were  you born ? 

“ I was born in 1991 in George in the Southern Cape. Not quite in winemaking territory.”

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

“I studied at the University of Stellenbosch where I achieved a BSc Viticulture and Oenology degree.”

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

“No. I use what I was taught and have learned since then in various cellars. All well tried   good winemaking practices.”

Q. How involved do you get in the Vineyard ? 

“I try to spend as much time as I possibly can in amongst the vines as that is where a great wine begins. “

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

“I have cabernet sauvignon at top of my list but Sauvignon blanc and Chenin blanc are about tie for top with cabernet. However I find all our varieties  a joy to work with , because  each varietal is unique in it’s own way.”

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

“Abrie Beeselaar and Jose Conde , with their out of the box thinking have been a great influence. I found my visit to Burgundy to be a region  so very inspiring just to see the passion and love they have for their wine.”

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

“Inspiring others to follow their passion and work hard in what they love. We as winemakers will always  be in search of making the perfect wine, so when the day arrives (if it arrives) I will re-answer the question !”

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

“No secrets  but follow your gut and always be in sync with Mother Nature.”

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

I’ll  try to utilise it as a tool in the winemaking process to enhance the quality that nature gives us, but I strongly believe in the grape doing it’s natural thing.”

Q. What has been your history to get you to where you are ?

“I started my first harvest at Uitkyk wine estate, as an intern during  my final year of studies at University of Stellenbosch. The year after  I became a Capewinemaker Protégé, where I started at Kanonkop, under the guidance of Abre Beeselaar. I moved to Ntida wine estate in my second year, to learn more about cool climate winemaking.  In that year I was lucky  to do a harvest in Burgundy, where I finally fell in love with wine  and where that passion still drives me to this day. With all this experience I was taken on by Starke Conde where I have been given the opportunity to put it all into practice.  I sincerely believe that life set me up to get to where I am and to be working with the varieties I love.”

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LOUISE VAN DER WESTHUIZEN – WINEMAKER AT MOUNT VERNON

Q. When and where were you born ? 

With engaging smile “I am just a baby and born a Vaalie ! I was born on 11th June 1991 in Krugersdorp. My folks moved to Cape Town in December 1997, just before I started school. I believe it was one of the best decisions they ever made !”

Q. Where did you study ? 

“I did a BscAgric Viticulture and Oenology at University of Stellenbosch and graduated in 2014.”

Q. what made you do winemaking ?

“My folks had wine with dinner and would allow the kids to have taste. I became intrigued with the way different cultivars differed in taste and was different from region to region. So it was partly curiosity and I had always enjoyed the sciences also Die Burger had a weekly segment on wine which I was reading when I did matric. So it seemed that was what I was going to do”

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

A bit bashful in reply “I believe that wine should be an expression of the nature of the grape. Bring out the best in the grapes and you will get amazing quality. You don’t have to force it into a style.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

Now a bit serious “Not as involved as I would like, although I do work very closely with our viticulturist.”

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

“I love working with  Bordeax varieties, but the aromatics, Gewurztraminer and Weisser Riesling, are wonderful and tricky to work with.”

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

Without hesitation “Etienne Louw, of Altydgedacht. He was my first mentor in the wine industry and taught me how to work with a whole lot of different cultivars and how one can make brilliant wine in a primitive cellar !”

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

With a cheeky smile “Ask me again in a few years !”

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

With that cute smile again . “Slow malolactic fermentations may benefit from the use of patio heaters in winter !!”

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

Back to serious mode:  “Modern equipment does simplify things and speeds the process up, but are not essential.”

Q. What about the future ?

“I can’t talk about the future without taking a step back. After school I went to Germany to au pair and that was when the idea of becoming a winemaker really struck. I applied for a university  place and was accepted to start the next year, 2011. While studying I started running and completed my first Comrades Marathon in my final year, while busy with an internship at Altydgedacht in Durbanville.  After the race I actually stayed in Durban for a while to help with marketing before I returned to the Cape in 2015. I was a harvest intern at Rupert and Rothschild which gave me the opportunity to work with  amazing equipment and wines ! After that I was appointed as Cellar and Winemaking administrator at Beyerskloof for almost two years. I started at Mount Vernon in July 2017.

For now I am mostly focusing on the coming harvest , 2018,  and planning of a new cellar which is a great opportunity for me.” After some thought and then with that great smile “I have a few personal goals to reach, including, hopefully completing my fifth Comrades.  My dad finished his 40th this year !!”

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