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New World Wine Maker Blog - winemaker interviews

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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Meet Clayton Reabow, Winemaker at Moreson

Q. When and where were you born ? 

“I was born in the very small and humble Eastern Cape town of King Williams Town in 1982. I eventually attended Dale College from Grade 1 to Grade 12. I left “King” in 2000 to pursue my dream to become a winemaker.”

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

“I completed my B.Sc Agriculture in Oenology and Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch in 2004 and set about starting my career.  In between completing some local vintages, I travelled to other wine producing areas such as Bordeaux in France and the Mosel in Germany to broaden my horizons. On returning to South Africa, I applied for the winemaking position at Moreson in 2007 and have never looked back!”  He continues  “In addition I completed a Post  Graduate in Wine Business Management, Cum  Laude at the University of Cape Town in 2011. “

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

“I have derived my winemaking from my friend and mentor, Gerald Ludwinski “Keep it simple and do the basics right.”  I personally believe that we are making the best wines we have ever made by sticking to these principles. We are constantly innovating, but also adhere to these basic rules.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyards ? 

“Luckily I pride myself on my Honesty. Most winemakers like to say that their beds are in the vineyard. This is not to say that I or any other winemaker does not spend any time in the vineyard, it is just that winemaking is an all-consuming position especially if you factor in marketing and travel. I also personally dislike winemakers who take credit away from the Viticulturists and from the farm managers who work on their respective estates. Moreson is a small estate relative to what is out there. Even if we insist on employing a Viticulturist whose sole purpose is to tend to the vines.  My role , as the  winemaker is to ensure  our stylistic approach  and direction is well communicated with this person and effectively ensure  a good working  relationship between  the two  operations. I spend as much time as I need in the vineyards  ensuring  we receive what we require  for the subsequent vintage. My role is strategic more than it is practical. I always insist that I personally visit each grower in Franschhoek myself together with the viticulturist. Manicuring a good, business relationship supersedes telling people what to do.”

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

“No doubt, Chardonnay and Pinotage. “

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

Burgundy is one of the most captivating wine regions in the world expressing their wines as single sites or single vineyards. Their history of wine production is fascinating dating back to the11th Century when the first Cistercian monks started to experiment with wine and in doing so finding the best vineyard sites suitable for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which would later be classified as village, premier cru and grand cru.  Their vignerons are true farmers who all possess a humility and honesty which is refreshing to experience. What I respect the most is how understated they and their wineries are. There are no ostentatious winery entrances, or large winery signs. Instead they focus purely on their vineyard sites and resulting wines.”

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

“Off the top of my head, being awarded Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year in 2009. That was very special and so was being a finalist in Diners Club Winemaker of the year in last year’s competition.” After some thought  “My greatest achievement , I believe,  has been working with in a team  for the past 11 years that has transformed the image and identity of Moreson wines”

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

“I believe what makes us different as a producer is my constant desire to challenge our wine growing and winemaking techniques. Our approach in the winery is certainly non-conventional. I dislike the conformity of wine production and wine preparation.  We are always testing ways  and means  to eradicate  the use of additives in the winery and replacing them with materials  that are more  natural and derived from our own cellar. For example, if I feel we can get away from not adding bentonite to wine without compromising the heat stability of the wine, we will do so.”

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

“Modern winemaking equipment such as automated sorting tables and optic sorting tables are an essential and expensive practice in wineries. Those wineries whose budget can afford such items and if used correctly, will add  value to their final product. Wineries whose brands are based on consistency year on year rely heavily on such machines in order to ensure and promote the health of fruit.  We make use of a pellenc automated sorting table to ensure incoming fruit is extremely healthy.”

Q.  The future ?

“South Africa is arguably producing some of the world’s best wines. No other wine producing country is gifted with a collection of talented winemakers willing to break the conformity of wine, take risks and continually strive to do better. I still we need to impress the world with just how good our wines are.

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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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