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New World Wine Maker Blog - winemaker interviews

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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Meet Gunter Schultz – Winemaker at Kleinood



Q. When and where were you born ?

“In Mowbray, Cape Town on 6th October 1974.” Then adds “ I was only a few months old when my dad started Beaumont Primary school in Somerset West so the family moved to Somerset West. I have four brothers and we all grew up in that delightful town.”

Q. Where did you study ? 

“Well I couldn’t make up my mind what to do so my Dad packed me off to the Army. Well that was a total waste of time. So I took a “gap year”. My brother was the winemaker at Hartenburg and so I ended up spending a lot of time with him.  With his influence and guidance I decided to enrol at Elsenburg in 1995. When I completed that at end of 1996 I went to work at Paardeberg Co-Op in 1997. I managed to fit in harvests in Australia, California and New Zealand.”

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

“Not sure about that but I base my winemaking solely on the vineyard and the seasonal changes.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“Besides making the wine I am the viticulturist at Kleinood so I am totally involved.”

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

Without any hesitation “Syrah and Mourvedre.”

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

With a friendly smile “My winemaking brothers Carl and Rudi.”

Q. What would you consider your greatest achievement in winemaking ?

With a big grin “Ten years of vintages at the same property !  I am finally getting to understand the property.”  After some reflection “2017 was my 22nd vintage.”

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

“I firmly believe that less is more ! I spend more time in the vineyard than in the winery.” After some thought “   

I guess meticulous care and handling. Our team inspects the vineyard from an aerial perspective and this allows us to do an infrared survey and determine vigour and ripeness in each block and pick each area accordingly.

Q. How important is modern winemaking equipment to you ? 

With a serious look “Very, I have some fancy toys in the winery and they simplify a very hands on operation.  All the machines we use save us time and ensure efficiency.”

Q. I am told that you met your wife-to-be and it was love at first sight ? 

He almost blushes and replies “It was during my second year at Elsenburg when I had been swimming with guys in the dam and was covered in mud when the sister of one of the guys, Juanita, now my wife, appeared and I declared that I would marry her !” “However marriage was still quite a while away.”

Q. Besides your wife and now kids you have another love in your life ? 

“Yes, surfing.  In 1998 I left for Australia and surfed until my visa expired !”

Q. And then ? 

“I had to get serious about working and started at Morgehof. Where, surprise, Juanita was also working. We actually got married in March 2001.  I worked at Waterford and was at Delaire when in 2007 I applied for and got the job at Kleinood and have been here ever since.

“I am still passionate about winemaking and surfing but have an extra passion in Juanita and our three kids.  I intend for things to stay that way till the end of my days.”

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MEET JOLANDIE FOUCHE – WINEMAKER AT KLOOVENBURG

Q. When and where were you born ? 

“I am a 1987 vintage. Born in Cape Town and grew up in the platteland town of Malmsbury.”

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

“I am a graduate of the Elsenburg Institute for Agricultural Training, where I completed my B.Agric in Cellar Management & Viticulture degree and Diploma in Cellar Technology.”

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

“Each winemaker has his/her own idea how to approach winemaking, depends if you are a small or big cellar, do you make for wine for  the general consumer  or for the connoisseur, who your mentor is and , of course, if you work  with healthy vineyards. I rely a lot on instinct. I don’t believe in following a recipe . My approach is a lot hands but attention to detail is critical.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“During the year I am not nearly  enough as I would like to be, but during the harvest I am out early in the morning before picking to make sure everything runs smoothly and then late afternoon to decide what is next for picking.”

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

“Rhone style is my big love and Grenache is my boyfriend !”

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

“I worked four years  at Saronsberg  so Dewald Heyns had a big impact  on my winemaking career.  He gave me the freedom to experiment, to make mistakes and how to correct them. It’s also there where  I fell in love with Rhone varieties. I grew up in the Swartland and always knew I will come back  to my roots !  Rosa Kruger also plays a vital role in my career both as viticulture and personal mentor.”

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

She answers with a broad grin “To be a winemaker !”

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

“There are no secrets but I have one rule : Be true to yourself and don’t follow a trend and make wines according to your terroir.”

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

“Not at all. We have a very basic cellar where you  still measure  sugar with a baling meter ! I do punch downs and have a manual basket press. I believe technology makes you lazy. Winemaking is all about smell, touch and experience. In my opinion, You are not making wine if you sit behind a computer !”

Q.  In general ? 

“After I graduated  I did a stint in South Australia, where I met the man who became  my husband, and then I went to California. I came back to Stellenbosch for a while then did my four years in Tulbagh. I got  married and joined Klooveburg and moved to live in Riebeek where we still live with two beautiful Labradors, Cinsaut and Simba.  There are currently,  positives and negatives in the industry  but we choose how we see them. Through my eyes  there is more good than bad  and everybody is working  really hard  to change the world’s perception about South African wine. It’s exciting and inspiring  to see the new generation of winemakers  pushing boundaries and making exceptional wine. In a nut shell I can’t wait for the next ten years . Great things are going to come !”

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MEET ARCO LAARMAN – OWNER WINEMAKER LAARMAN WINES

Q. When and where were you born ?

“I was born far from the Cape and it’s vineyards. In a place called Roodepoort, not too far from Johannesburg. My mother gave birth to me on January 9th, 1977.”

Q. Where did you study ?

“I did not go to a university but learned my Trade as an apprentice ! I had wanted to be a winemaker since I was about 12 years old.  I matriculated in 1995 and my mother suggested I do a harvest first, to make sure that I wanted to be a winemaker. My first harvest was with the great Danie Steytler on Kaapzicht.” After some reflection he continued “ I ended up staying there for four harvests , and within those short four years  I also worked for Mobott (a mobile bottling company for eight months. Not only enormously valuable experience but it was a good way of meeting people in the wine industry. You would be surprised how many wineries there are that the average person never get to know about.” He continued “We had done some bottling for Glen Carlou and in the middle of 1999, David Finlayson offered me a job as an assistant winemaker, which I gladly accepted. Before starting at Glen Carlou I had enough time to do an American harvest. David organised a  position for me at The Hess Collection Winery in Napa Valley, California, where I worked for four months. In 2000 I went to France for a harvest in Beaujolais where I was for about four weeks. I also completed a harvest  in Australia in 2003 at Xanadu Wines in Margaret River. I also worked at friends  wineries in Austria and Germany. I spent 17 years, in all, at Glen Carlou and left in 2015 to start my own venture.”

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

“Since leaving Glen Carlou my approach has changed and I work my brands  from different regions as I sell my wines  as me being the endorsement  of the wines as I am person and not an estate that one can visit. So I take varieties that work best in the selected regions.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“I am very involved with all the owners  of the vineyards I buy grapes from and work together with their vineyard managers to secure the best fruit possible.”

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

“I believe in the noble varieties as they will always sell but I regard  myself as a Chardonnay specialist with my 17 years at Glen Carlou. I also work with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsaut and Chenin Blanc. That is for now but there are sure to be more in the future !”

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

“Having worked with David Finlayson for over ten years be fore he left Glen Carlou I would say he and Danie Steytler of Kaapzicht were great people to have learnt from. I have only dealt with Paarl grapes  for 17 years  but now on my own I am excited  to now work with grapes from Piekernierskloof , Vermaaklikheid, Stellenbosch and Elgin.”

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

“My long standing career with Glen Carlow and the accumulation of awards in those years . However, I don’t make wines with the idea to achieve awards.”

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

With a broad grin “It would not be a secret if I told you”. “ However I can share that wine is only as good as the fruit you  work with and then no need to overwork wines in the cellar.”

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

“Not that important. You must have healthy fruit and then hygiene is very important as well as protection from oxidation.”

Q. What of the future ?

“My first release on my own is the “Cluster Series” includes a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon and there will be more to follow.”

Q. Why have you called your wines The Cluster Series

“This has been my way of bringing together quality grapes, my winemaking experience, my family and friends in the industry. Not only is a cluster a bunch of grapes but it is a constant reminder that none of us can succeed in isolation. One grape cannot make a bottle of wine !”

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