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New World Wine Maker Blog - winemaker interviews

Meet Corlea Fourie – Winemaker at Bosman Vineyards

Q. When and where were you born ? 

“1980 in Johannesburg”.  “However my Dad moved the family to Bloemfontein and I grew up and went to school there.”

Where did you study ?

“I did a Bsc Agric Oenology at Stellenbosch University and I was in the class 2003.”

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

“I know I have many wine friends that feel the same way about certain things we do but then our approach is personal.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“As I work for one of the most prominent vine nurseries in the Southern Hemisphere I am surrounded by an amazing viticultural team.  I’m responsible for vineyard to wine goal outcomes so I do try to get to the vineyards as much as possible. That said, it’s still something I have to work at. There is always something pulling me away!”

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

“Chenin blanc is my very dear favourite!  Some people consider me to be a chenin junkie!””

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

“After visiting the Loire I have picked up a touch of sentiment for the valley.  Many winemakers have influenced my thoughts on wine, here and abroad.  Wine is, to some extent, a social experiment with so many tastes and thoughts.  It is dynamic. ”

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

“Achievements are dynamic too. You are measured by your consumer’s pleasure by the wine in the glass. Every season brings new challenges and opportunities.”

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

“No secrets. I have a young team who work with me and madness in their methods are freely shared. I do try, and do have a soft touch though.”

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

The answer is straight and to the point. “It is.” And continues “We do not need to work harder but smarter. Modern equipment usually helps with this.”

Q. How did you come to be at Bosman Vineyards ?

“I had been doing some consulting work in the area and came across Petrus and we were both making small batches of experimental wines on a neighbouring farm.  He was busy in renovating a 250 year old cellar on his family farm and Petrus invited me to join him. It was like a dream come true although we struggled to figure out how to use all the equipment! Hard to believe that is ten vintages ago!  In that time we have made some great wines.”

Q. In general ? 

“Although growing up mainly in the Free State with no vineyards in sight I spent family holidays in the Cape Winelands where my elder sister lived. After finishing school and doing a “Gap Year” mainly in the hospitality industry, I started my studies. I was prompted by my love for biology and science which led me into wine. I did a harvest as a practical and this introduced me to my future husband who was the winemaker at the farm of my choice!   We are now raising a family with a twelve year old daughter and a pigeon pair of twins aged seven.   I look forward to achieving my personal goals as a winemaker whilst working in a dynamic industry.  Lots of good stuff to look forward to. “

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ANTON SWARTS: SENIOR WINEMAKER AT SPIER AND CAPE WINE MASTER

Q. When and where were you born ? 

Reply with generous smile “I was bred and born in the picturesque town of Paarl during the 1975 vintage on 30th January.” Then adds “The same day that Ernö Rubik applied for his patent of his “Magic Cube” which later became known as Rubik’s Cube.”

Q. Where did you study ? 

“Not a straight answer !  I studied at Elsenberg College with the Cape Technikon doing the National diploma in Agriculture focussing on Viticulture, Vegetable production and Pomology.” Then adds with a smile “I am more qualified as a viticulturist than a winemaker.  To be honest , winemaking wise I am more or less self taught with 18 years of industry experience. In 1999, I started as a general harvest hand under the watchful  eye of Chris Roux at the old Wamakersvallei Winery now Wellington Wines. Then an opportunity presented itself and moved me to their bottling and cellar facility in Epping  as the supervisor. At that stage  I knew the very basics  about winemaking and could kick myself for not paying more attention in Class ! I was immediately caught up in the whole fascination of the wine world and just wanted to know more. This led me to the Cape Wine Academy (that you started) where I began the prelim course to educate myself more about this “nectar of the Gods”. I eventually became 100th Cape Wine Master in 2017.” Then added “I must say it was the opportunities that my employers, Spier Wines, that gave me the capability of education  and the belief in me for promoting me through the years without which I could never have got to where I am today.”

Q. How long have you been with Spier ?

“18 years and counting…..I started in June 1999 as a cellar Supervisor in the bottling facility known as Cape Central  Packaging. We bottling for various customers . This became Ashwood Wines and  Winepack and was bought by Wine Corp now known as Spier. “

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

“My job requires me to source wines and blend different tiers  at different price points  so I don’t actually make wine !”

Q. So describe what you do ?

“I am one of the senior winemakers at Spier and form part of a winemaking team that functions in the Secondary Winemaking Department. I help with the procurement of wines from our outside, contracted cellars who make wines for our specific requirements and our  different labels. I relook the various components that we have sourced and begin to finalise the blends and plan to bring the bulk wines in for blending and bottling. This is a year long process and covers the whole range of wines  including specialty wines  such as Woolworths low kilojoule wines and others.”

Q. Do you have a preference for any particular variety ? 

“I couldn’t chose one variety over another ! However I do have a fancy for such diverse varieties like Pinot Noir and Shiraz that have totally different origins. I also love South African Pinotage.  I also love chenin blanc and believe it is to South Africa what Riesling is to Germany. Of course, it also makes some of our best brandies.” After some thought “I am also fascinated by Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Touriga Nacional and Tempranillo.

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

“Not really although  Germany, Burgundy, the Mosel in particular and the Rhone .”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“Not much. We have a team of viticulturists who spend 24/7 looking after our precious vines.”

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

“Winning awards for your wines  is always a great achievement but what I really love about  my job is to produce wines  that people enjoy. To see the satisfaction on the faces of people enjoying our wine is the most simplistic way of understanding a great achievement.” Then adds “On top of that I guess becoming a Cape Wine Master is right up there. Being selected for Team South Africa to compete in blind tastings overseas two years in a row is also very special.”

Q. Have you developed any secrets in your winemaking ? 

“If I tell you I would have to kill you !!  However, seriously, I always try to over deliver in quality and the wine  must have body, aroma and flavour. I like my  wines to be mouth-watering.

Q. What do you consider your keys in the cellar ? 

”Patience, Accuracy and Attention to detail “

Q. How important  is modern winemaking equipment to you ? 

“At Spier moder winemaking equipment is essential. It helps us get the perfect berry into the cellar so that we can make it into perfect wine !”

Q. What advice do you have to wine drinkers ?

“To enjoy your glass of wine and not to analyse it.  Enjoyment is what wine is all about.”

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Meet Hattingh De Villiers, Winemaker Muratie

Q. When and where were you born ?  

“I was born in Vredendal on 11th January 1958.”

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

“I did a B-agric Cellar Technology, Oenology and Viticulture at Elsenberg and then went on to complete a postgraduate diploma in business management at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. Also attended the Michael Fricjhon Wine Judging Academy.”

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

“I believe  in simplicity. Every vintage differs from the previous, thus working  with what nature gives you, no recipe and not getting too technical. Let the wine speak for itself.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“Muratie is a small, hands on, family farm, we do everything from grape to bottle ourselves. So I spend a lot of time  in the vineyards , and it is important, because  you can only make a wine as good as your grapes, so you need to put in  the effort to make sure the latter is excellent.”

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

“Yes. Sauvignon blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, “

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

“ I worked at a small but high quality estate, Chateau Montelena in the Napa Valley where  their no-nonsense  approach to making wine without a recipe, according  to what the vintage and conditions yield, was very influential for me as a young winemaker.” “I also took in very different experience at Bleasdal Vineyards in Langhorne Creek  in Australia.” He continues “My local experience at Opstal in the Breedekloof, at Morgenhof in Stellenbosch and Siedelberg in Paarl all played their part.”

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

“Empowering  and hopefully inspiring my cellar staff.”

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

”No secrets. Necessarily, but I have learnt that less is more when it  comes to wood, you should let the natural characteristics of the wine shine.”

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

“Technology  shouldn’t  dictate  your winemaking decisions, but the best modern equipment certainly helps make your life easier and can improve quality.”

Q. How do you keep fit ?

“Getting around the farm and cellar and a young family keeps me pretty fit along with some jogging around the surrounding Simonsberg hills with my Border Collies .”

Q. In general ?

“I have been fortunate  to travel and work at some fine overseas cellars but I still have a lot international wine destinations on my travel bucket list  and a lot I want to learn. I also have a lot of other interests away from wine and I love golf and hunting. Very important is spending time with my wife, Leonie  and darling little daughter and family and friends.” After some thought “I really enjoy eating good food and drinking good wine and being in the company of my family and friends.”

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MEET NATHAN VALENTINE, WINEMAKER AT VILLIERA WINES

Q. Where were you born ?

With a big grin “According to my Grandfather it was in Scottsdene in 1989 but I like to tell everyone that I was born in Stellenbosch as my Mom grew up in the Elsenburg farming community  and my Dad grew up on the Kanonkop Wine Estate. So I come from a long family connection with the Stellenbosch wine industry.”

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

“I went to Elsenburg Agricultural College and graduated with a BA Agric specialising in winemaking in 2013.” He continues “While a student I worked in the Villiera tasting room and developed a love for Cap Classique.” “After graduating  I worked vintages at De Morgenzon, Chando, the Moet operation in California, Villiera and Domaine Grier in France. The Griers got me to do the Cape Wine Academy certificate course.”

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

With a bright big smile “Yes of course ! Doing what everyone else  does is boring. I’m pretty much open to anything new as long as it makes sense scientifically as well as financially !”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“So far not as much as I would like to but, now at Villiera, that will change in the near future.”

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

No hesitation “Yes, Merlot, whether as a rose or red . It has been my focal point for quite some time now, regardless of the knock it got from Sideways . I also find Mediterranean varieties exciting to work with, even more than Merlot, actually.”

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

“ No, one in particular . I suppose I’ve been influenced by different winemakers from different regions over time.”

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

With another big smile “To still have good teeth by the time I reach 50, but as a so called “snotgat” in the industry my biggest achievement is becoming just that, a winemaker.”

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

Another big smile “I could tell you, but then I’ll have to kill you !! A lot of what the younger winemakers are doing or trying nowadays are often frowned upon  by the more experienced winemakers  and vice versa. However, that’s life, like Don Corleone once said “The new overthrow the old , it’s natural.”

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

“My personal winemaking philosophy is a hands off approach  . So modern winemaking  equipment plays  a very small role, if any, in my approach to winemaking.”

Q. How about the future  ?

“Villiera is a very positive place to work which suits my positive can do attitude and the future gives me a great sense of adventure.”

Q. What do you do for recreation ? 

“I keep fit by power lifting and play a bit of rugby.”

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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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