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New World Wine Maker Blog - winemaker interviews

Meet Xander Grier – Winemaker at Villiera Wines

Q When and where were you born ? 

“I was born in Nelspruit in 1984 which was shortly after the Grier family purchased the farm Villiera.” Then adds somewhat casually “My Dad  is the great Chef and extreme adventurer and inspirational speaker, David Grier.”

Q. Where did you study ? 

“I studied at the University of Stellenbosch where I graduated with a Bsc Food Science (Bio).

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

“Not really. I think my approach is very similar to most young winemakers way of thinking and execution, minimal intervention and let it all happen in the vineyard.”

Q. You say let it all happen in the vineyard. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“Well my uncle Simon is overall responsible for vineyards at Villiera but I try to get involved as much as possible as I believe the wine gets made in the vineyard.”

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

With a wry smile “Yes, pinot noir, the heart break grape !”

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

“When I returned to South Africa I had a short stint with Kevin Grant in Elgin then I moved to be Assistant to Gerhard Smith, the winemaker at La Vierge in Hemel-en-Aarde. He taught me a lot and gave me the freedom to express myself. I worked with him for three vintages before moving to Villiera and that is a long time in my short career. ”  Then adds “Of course my vintages in the USA, Australia, Tasmania and Domaine Grier in France all played their part.”

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

With the ever present smile. “I’m still working on it , but at this stage it has to be my Stand Alone Pinot Noir.”

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

Again with that engaging smile “I’ve got to keep that a secret otherwise it will no longer be a secret !”

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

“At Villiera we operate on a big scale so it plays an important role in our cellar.”

Q. You went to the University of Stellenbosch but what else have you done that is not part of winemaking ? 

“My uncle and aunt (Jeff and Cathy Grier) are both Cape Wine Masters so they got me involved in the Cape Wine Academy and then I have worked as a Chef, barman, gardener and lifeguard in South Africa, Mozambique and the USA.”

Q. What of the future ?

“The future looks bright , challenging and exciting all at the same time. I am looking forward to working with the team at Villiera and can’t wait  to see the results from our labours in the future and of course working with my Uncle Jeff a legend in our winemaking world.”

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Meet Koen Roose-Vandebrouke – Owner and Winemaker Spioenkop

First impression is that here is someone who is very different and an individualist. Well groomed albeit dark stubble on chin and cheeks topped by a dark engineers cap confirm the impression as does the difficult to determine accent which turns out to be Belgium. English is spoken with an engaging turn of phrase.

Q. What made you come to South Africa ?

“On a visit to the Cape my wife and I fell in love with the beautiful Elgin Valley and knew that this was where  we could produce elegant wines  that would be sexy and pure but at the same time unique and, maybe, even a little wild. “

Q. Where were you born ?

“In Belgium in  July 1974.”

Q. Where did you study ?

“I studied Engineering at Kortjk in Belgium.” “I also became a Sommelier because of my love for wine.”

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

With great enthusiasm and emphasis “Oh, most certainly yes !!  I’m an alchemist and have an unbelievable feeling with my vineyards , I love vineyard  architecture and don’t believe in irrigation. We must listen to the vine and do what the vine asks us. That means don’t trellis a vine like we want but how she wants like lyre and gyot and so on.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“I probably spend 70% of my time with my vines.”

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

“Pinotage and pinot noir.”

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

“Francois  Naude was my teacher  and my mentor. He showed me to understand pinotage and that winemaking is a gift  and not something you learn at school.”

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

“ I am still waiting for it but it comes ! But on the way, maybe my first  one  was to reinvent pinotage. Pinotage in Elgin.  Elegant in style  and walking away from the jammy, alcoholic, over extracted style like we all know. I had my Five stars in 2012 for it.  The next one was to show the world  that Riesling can be made in South Africa and that it can reflect it’s terroir if you understand the vine. Teaching South African people that she is the Queen  of grapes  so handle her like a queen. Minerality, expensive and give her a beautiful bottle and don’t make her a sweet thing of here, we are not in Germany ! “I did not mention Chenin Blanc. Planting Chenin in Elgin was a dream that came true because if your figures work well, poor soil, high density, great drainage, wind, aspect, you can make something great that is so pure, clean, shinning that it brings you to fine dining of the world of top chefs.” After some thought he adds “The Elgin area is the future gold of the Western Cape.”

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

His answer is direct “Secrets ? Understanding your vineyard and working with nature. Nature provides it all. No need to add anything ! Nature is on the inside and not how pretty the bunch looks on the outside!”

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

“Not at all. Give me small stainless steel tanks, a basket press and a cooling system. Also a cool store and I am happy.  Of course, also, a brush to clean.”

Q. And the future ?

“ Very easy, winemaking is  just part of my vision as it is to educate people showing them what passion can do in winemaking which is the key to success. Do the things that you are good at and work with the grapes that are made for you and your region. If not take them out but do not try and make something average.”

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Meet Chris and Andrea Mullineux – winemakers and winery owners

Andrea is from California and met her husband to be on while working a vintage at Waterford. They then worked vintages in Europe and met on an excursion to Champagne while visiting a mutual friend.  They moved to South Africa and worked initially at Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards then with several Swartland growers and recognised the regions tremendous potential.  They opened Mullineux Family Wines in 2007 with the intent to focus on varieties they considered did best in the Swartland, Syrah and Chenin Blanc. Earlier in his wine days  in the Cape Chris had been involved in biodynamic techniques in  in vineyards and soon put this knowledge to work in the Swartland.  Andrea looked after the winery. Through minimal intervention she sought to highlight the uniqueness  of the Swartland soils in bottlings labelled Granite, Schist and Quarts.  Andrea says she wanted to make honest wines  that represented where they came from  but with a common thread of quality through them all.

In an effort to raise the profile of the area they teamed up Adi Badenhorst, Callie Louw and Eben Sadie as members of The Swartland Independent Producers and started the Swartland Revolution.

Q. Where were you born ?

Chris,” Cape Town in September 1976. Andrea, New Orleans in May 1978.”

Q. Where did you study ?  

Chris : “At University of Stellenbosch where I first did a B. Comm then a B.Sc Agric (Viticulture and Oenology). Andrea : University of California, Davis, Viticulture and Oenology.”

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

“There are so many different winemaking approaches , so while we have a specific  approach, it is not unique in the world. Our approach  is to try as best  as possible  to bottle wines that have a sense of place. So, we try to interfere as little as possible in the vineyards and in the cellar, but we are both  scientifically trained in Viticulture and Oenology, and will intervene if there is a potential  issue and we feel we absolutely have to. “

Q. How involved do you get in the Vineyard ?

“WE work with Rosa Kruger, and she manages all our vineyards. Chris and Rosa  have an understanding on how we want our vineyards farmed. We follow a “reasoned” approach, where for instance  we prefer to use cover crops , mulch and compost rather than herbicides and fertilizers. Chris regularly , in fact every week,  spends time in the vineyards with Rosa to ensure this is the way things are being done.”

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

“Our focus is on varieties that are suited to the sites they are planted in. So, in the Swartland, for Mullineux we work with Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, etc. and for our Leeu Passant winery we work with Cinsault in Franschoek and in Stellenbosch we work with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.”

Q. Have you been influenced by any particular winemaker ?

Chris : “David Trafford and Eben Sadie played a strong influence  on me as a student. Their approach of trying to interfere as little as possible really resonated  with me at a time, late 90’s, when most of quality South African wine was made with a lot of intervention, extraction and new oak. After spending some time with David and then Eben in the cellar, I chose to seek out other producers around the world who were following a similar approach of trying to let wines show a sense of place and learn from them.”

Q. What would you consider your greatest achievement as winemakers ?

In unison “Helping to change the perception of the Swartland  Wine Region. Previously it was known for Bulk Wine, but together with the group of other producers we were able to change this in a relatively short time by focusing on quality, transparent winemaking, and preaching the same message when it comes to what the Region  does best.”

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

Together “There are no secrets !  Just a lot of hard work and no compromises.”

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

“Due to the warm dry climate, harvest is very quick and intense  in the Swartland. We do not have a fancy cellar, and we only use modern equipment where it is gentle on the fruit and can make our  lives easier in the cellar so we can keep fresh, focused and have time  to make  clear decisions on picking etc. Some modern equipment allows us to push  the boundaries  in the cellar a bit more  by allowing  us to  pick grapes “earlier”. Better hygiene allows us to use less sulphur, not to inoculate with yeast, etc. , and this helps our wines have a sense of place.”

To sum up : “After meeting we worked together for a few years , which proved we could work well together and only then got married ! We started our own winery in the Swartland, Mullineux, in 2007 and then in 2013  we partnered  with Anjit Singh. He had purchased a winery in Franschoek and we now make our Leeu Passant wines there and the Mullineux wines in the Swartland.

Almost as if by an afterthought they add “We were the Platter Winery of the Year in2014 and 2016 and Andrea was recognised by the USA Wine Enthusiast Magazine as their Winemaker of the Year in 2016.”

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Meet Annamarie Fourie – Winemaker at Holden Manz

Q. Where and when were you born ?

“Born in in Vredendal in May 1981, My folks were living in Saldanha at the time.”

Q. Where did you study ? 

“I obtained a B-Agri at Elsenberg  in 2009.”

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

“No, not really.  Those of us who were lucky enough to go to Elsenburg were very thoroughly trained and if you did the basics correctly and paid attention to detail you should produce decent wine.”

Q. How involved to you get in the vineyard ?

“I am very much involved with the day to day decisions in the vineyard. Where I have previously worked there were very good viticultural people from whom I learned a lot and here at Holden Manz we have Tertius Oosthuizen who is very good at what he does. However , I still like to know exactly what is going on in the vineyard throughout the season.”

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

“Syrah and Chenin Blanc.”

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

“Working with a man like Thierry Haberer you can’t not be influenced and I am sure what he does has rubbed off on me. Then my visit to the Rhone had  a great impact and there Edward La Beye certainly was influential.”

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

“Finding my feet and my voice in the wine industry and to be treated as a winemaker and not a woman ! I think this is the best achievement I could have asked for.”

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

“No secrets. Just pick when the grapes are ready to be picked and taste, taste, and taste !”

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

“Here at Holden Manz we have some lovely modern equipment to work with but  I guess there will always be something that would work better. Although, having said that, modern equipment  is not as important as functional equipment . I would rather have the latter.”

Q. What made you go into winemaking ?

“I grew up in a small town in the Swartland, Moorreesburg, and in my heart, I always wanted to be a farmer. I knew I would not do well with livestock. So I chose something that I love to drink, wine ! I still love to get my hands dirty and you can do that with wine ! Also, I love the intimacy of a small winery and the total involvement. So this will be my focus for years to come, to perfect my craft/art and find my place !”

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Irene Waller General Manager and Winemaker at La Bri

Q When and where were you born ?

“I was born in Cape Town at the Kingsbury Maternity hospital in Claremont in June 1968.”

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

“I first trained as an accountant so have a Bcom (Accountant) from UCT. I then went on to be a maths and accounting teacher. I did my HDE part time through UNISA during my first two years of teaching. I quit teaching officially in 1996 as I had made up my mind to become a wine maker. I then spent  the next five years travelling between Australia, South Africa and Europe to gain wine experience. To pay my way I taught maths in the UK.  In 2001 I returned to Maties (University of Stellenbosch) to study BSC Agric which I achieved  Cum Laude  and was awarded  the Professor Perold trophy  as the top student. “

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

“I like to think I combine both the science and the art of winemaking in one. The chemistry is there to guide  but ultimately it is the gut  feel and experience that allows for the creativity of expression.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“I believe you cannot make wine in the cellar if you have not been involved in the vineyard”.   She continues “We are fortunate to have Gerard Olivier managing the estate and vineyards, but we work closely together when it comes to decisions of new plantings, canopy management and ultimately harvesting.”

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

Without hesitation she replies “Chardonnay for our MCC, Syrah and the difficult child, Viognier.”

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

“I was extremely fortunate to be appointed  as a winemaker at Graham Beck Wines in Robertson being straight out of varsity. It was here that I developed my passion for MCC under the expert guidance and mentorship of Pieter “Bubbles” Ferreira. I take from him the adage ‘there is no recipe – we don’t make coca cola !’ “

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

“The release of our first MCC under the La Bri Label, our Sauvage La Bri. A work of patience and passion with over five years on the lees before degorgement. A wine I am extremely proud of.”

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

“I don’t really think it is a secret as I hope you can taste it in the wine . The passion with which the wine is made  and our attention detail at every stage of it’s journey.”

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

“We like to think we make old world wines with the benefit  of new world technology. At La Bri we have a state-of-the art 120 ton boutique cellar built in 2008 which allows the benefit of making wines with all the ‘bells and    whistles’ “

Q. How important are the cellar dogs in your wine quality ?

With a gorgeous smile “Oh, couldn’t do anything without those old two. Jake the Jack Russell and Peggy-Sue the aging Staffie.”

Q. Whatever made you change direction from accounting to winemaking ?

“I did a Cape Wine Academy  prelim course in  1996 and Louise-Ann Grinstead was my lecturer. She ignited in me a desire to know more about  wine and after much travelling and studying I finally became a winemaker at the ripe old age of 36 ! You are never too old to find your true calling and passion in life. “

Q. Now the future ?

“ I am very fortunate to work  for an owner, Robin Hamilton, who allows me the freedom to experiment. We have released  the first MCC at La Bri and have reintroduced Semillon to the range. Semillon which is a variety synonymous with Franschhoek.”  Then ends with enthusiasm “The future is exciting with the challenges it holds.”

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Meet Liza Goodwin – Winemaker Meerendal

Q. Where were you born ? 

“I was born in Bellville in May 1972.”

Q. Where did you study ? 

“I did Viticulture and Oenology at Elsenberg where I finished in 1994. I was appointed at Meerendal in 1998. The first ever female winemaker in Durbanville let alone Meerendal which was founded in 1702 and had it’s first wine bottled in1969 !”

Q. That must have been quite daunting ? 

With a delightful smile “I guess so but I had been well taught and was willing to work with nature rather than against and that made it all much easier. Not that winemaking is really easy !”

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

“I suppose not really although I prefer not to intervene too much in the cellar. I am not a great fan of using  the latest enhancing products  that the industry bombard you with. I want to bring out the best  of what the vineyards give me for any particular year and avoid the chemicals !”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“A lot. I keep an eye on the spraying programme as well as the canopy management . My involvement in the vineyard is equal to that in the cellar.”

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

Immediate response. “Yes I love working with sauvignon blanc and Merlot. These varieties always surprise me, as you never know what to expect with the new vintage. Nature has a big influence  on what these varieties will do year to year. Pinotage , Shiraz and Cab are more predictable.”

Q. However you have made some great wines from those varieties ?

“Yes especially the Heritage Block pinotage and my new Merlot Prestige.”

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

“ Not so much, although the winemakers in Durbanville do share a lot of info. We help each other out.  So I would rather say  that my biggest influence is definitely my Durbanville colleagues. Then my visit to Italy opened my eyes, especially the southern part with  their white wines.” Then continues “I still believe that wine should encapsulate a place in time. As a product it doesn’t play by the same rules as mass produced consumer goods , It is always differs year to year and place to place. My intention is to make the  best and most interesting wines from Meerendal’s vineyards   with a willingness to work with Mother Nature rather than against he.”

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

Answers jokingly “Still surviving as a woman in a cellar  after 18 years !”

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

“There are no secrets …… I work with what Nature gives me each year.”

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

“It plays a big role….It makes the process,  quicker and easier. It is beneficial  to producing quality wines, especially when you are in an industry with so much competition.”

Q. What of the future ?

“I will answer that with a quick review. I began my career in winemaking at Meerendal in 1998 as an assistant winemaker and then 2005 and 2006 I was the viticulturist at Meerendal then moved back to the cellar as Cellar Master and have since taken over the whole process. From vineyard to cellar and even involved in the marketing.  So I have a pretty full plate  ! It will no doubt get even fuller as the future of wine in South Africa looks very promising. I do wish we would get more support from the Government on the international scene and especially in research and training. I also hope to see the growers  and producers getting better prices  for their products. Especially where the big retail companies are  involved. Words like rebates and discounts come to mind….”

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