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New World Wine Maker Blog - winemaker interviews

ESTELLE LOURENS – WINEMAKER AT UITKYK

Q. When and where were you born ? 

“1974 in Somerset West”.

Q. Where did you study ?

“I did a BSc in Winemaking and Viticulture at the Stellenbosch University.”

Q. Your entry into wine was a bit different to others ?

“Yes, winemaking wasn’t something I dreamt about when I was younger.I happened to stumble onto it by chance. I studied Biophysics at US until it became boring. Winemaking sounded interesting. I had always loved chemistry and the idea of being outdoors in the vineyards would enable me to fulfil two passions.”

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

“I think every winemaker  has a different approach and it changes  through the years as you gain more experience and become more at ease with your own style.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“Not as much as I would like. I run a 1100 ton winery without an assistant so that makes more than a full time job !!”

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

“Yes. I have always loved to work with Cabernet sauvignon and Sauvignon blanc, but Chenin blanc is a real passion for me.”

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

“No one in particular but many conversations with  many different winemakers tend to stick somewhere…”

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

“There have been many wonderful awards  throughout the years, but I think through all my years at Uitkyk I proved that this place can produce unique and powerful wines throughout the spectrum. You need to get to know where to plant what.”

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

“I try not to fiddle too much ! There are so many different products and techniques on the market to enhance and “change” your wines, it is unbelieveable !! I try to respect the fruit and structure that come from our grapes themselves. At time of blending I have learnt not to make the perfect wine for now, but to see the wine in 4-5 years down the road, because that is the beauty of Uitkyk reds, their longevity.”

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

“It is always nice to have modern equipment, but budget constraints don’t always allow for that. I have learned to work with what I have. It is always interesting to hear conversations about techniques changing  to what we used to do in earlier years…”

Q. You joined Uitkyk in 2000. What happened before that ?

“In my final tear at Stellenbosch I received the award for the best student in oenology and viticulture. This encouraged me to travel and gain international experience. I visited New Zealand, Australia , Tasmania and the USA. I returned to South Africa 1997 and was first appointed as an assistant at Neethlingshof. My “boss’ was the legendary Schalk van Westhuizen. I then worked on two sister cellars before being given the keys to Uitkyk.”

Q. …and once at Uitkyk ?

“Soon after I settled in at Uitkyk I married Ian Lourens and we have two children. We enjoy hiking and the outdoors and we seldom venture into the city. Our love for nature is very apparent at Uitkyk where various sustainability initiatives and Uitkyk was recently awarded championship status with the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI)”

“Winemaking is certainly not a job but a lifestyle. One for which I am very grateful.”

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Danielle Le Roux – Winemaker at Asara

Q. When and where were you born ? 

“I  was born in Caledon (Overberg) in June 1977. A family of five siblings and 5th generation wheat and sheep farmers.”

Q. Where did you study ? 

“I did a Bsc in Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Stellenbosch and graduated in 1999. I also did my Cape Wine Master and managed to get that in 2009.”

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

“Winemaking is not a recipe. We might get fantastic guidelines from our lectors and mentors but after that it is a combination  of knowledge, gut feel, personality and phone a friend !” After some thought “There are times when it is sensible to contact a fellow winemaker.”

Q. How involved do you  get in the vineyard ?

“At Asara we have a fabulous viticulture team, Alan Cockcroft and William (alias Tokkie) Bussell and we have a common love for coffee and wine, so we make time to discuss ideas and strategies, often in the vineyard  under discussion. I try to get into the vineyards as often as I can during the growing season and obviously during the harvest.  I think every winemaker  has the ideal to be even more in the vineyard, but after every day winemaking, cellar hygiene, sawis*, ipw*, wieta*, workshops, bottling and tastings it is challenging !”

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

“ I love to work with Chenin. The range of flavours and styles are just legion. Of course Pinotage. It is just out of the box and flamboyant. I guess my patriotic side shows here ! I also like merlot. Contrary to many views , I believe there are some fabulous  merlots in the Cape. I strive for a style of merlot that is plush, elegant and poised.”

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

“I did a harvest in Tuscany and I was really  inspired by  the integration of the lifestyle, love for wine and food and the overall quality of life.  During my harvest in Sonoma at Verite, I was inspired by Pierre Seillan’s absolute focus on quality  and purity of the wine. In South Africa , every individual colleague taught me something different – apart from the day to day winemaking actions. Also decision making during all steps from making to bottling and marketing, to ethics in the industry, to appreciation and respect for all wines.”

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

“As every phase of my career has passed, it was accompanied by, what some might consider small achievements but for me have been major events. For example : completing my  BSc (Agric) was great and my Cape Wine Masters was a highlight and then being gifted  with a four yesr old that I am sure will love wine !” Then continues “Awards come and go but they but they are not the sole definition of success. I get greater value from the appreciation of my wines by consumers and fellow wine lovers.  In the end our wines can only be as good as the building blocks we are presented with but a little bit of ourselves goes into each bottle.”

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

“A difficult question, but real secret to making your wine unique is to : 1 LOVE WHAT YOU DO ! Love coming to work , it’s a privilege of having your job as your hobby. 2 Never stop reading/learning /asking . 3 A second opinion is very valuable but also trust your gut-feel.”

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

“The quality of your wine  firstly starts with the quality of your building  blocks e.g. the grapes. However equipment does add quality . Just to mention a few factors like the cooling of your grapes, sorting, soft destemming, soft pressing, temperature control during fermentation. All these add to the final quality and finesse.”

Q.  What of the future ?

“Born as one of five siblings in a 5th generation farming family (Wheat and sheep) in the Overberg studying agriculture was just a natural extension of what I am and where my heart lies.  The decision to go oenology is another story. I did a few harvests abroad in Tuscany, Sonoma and Bergerac. The rest is history. After South African jobs at Fort Simon, Sentinel and Lyngrove, I started at Asara . Asara has fantastic terroir and an impressive history. Our aim is to build on the foundation and continue to make wines that mirror our unique terroir and style.”

* Sawis = SA Wine Industry Information and Systems

Ipw = Integrated Wine Production

Wieta = The Agricultural Ethical Trade Initiative  Of SA

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Wim Truter Chief Winemaker at KWV

Q. Where do you originate from ? 

“I was born in the Strand in 1981.”

Q. Where did you study ? 

“I studied initially at University of Stellenbosch from 2000 to 2003 where I obtained a Bsc. Agric.  Then I went to France and 2009 to 2011 studied a Masters Vintage program.

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

“Fundamentally, not really.  I try to keep things simple. I believe in doing the basics well and understanding  the technical details of decision and then letting the vineyard do the talking.”

Q. You mention the vineyard. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“As much as possible. Working with our viticulturist to a common goal is critical. A right decision in the vineyard is worth ten in the cellar.”

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

“I have always loved cabernet sauvignon, but recently I am more drawn to  the lighter bodied  and styled  varieties such as Pinot Noir , Grenache and Cinsault.”

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

“I was impressed by the generosity and open minded approach of the winemakers  of Sancerre.  The impressive  and almost extreme  wines of Priorat and the elegance and refinement of Burgundy.”

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

“I’m still working on it !”

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

“Unfortunately the word secret doesn’t exist in this business. You have got to know your vineyards, pay attention to detail and work hard at it all the time !”

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

“With the very  special small batches  we are  very hands-on”  and it is not that critical. However, with the bigger volume blends it helps with managing of quality, consistency and efficiency.”

Q. I know you are  fit fellow. What do you do for fitness ?

“You have got to be fit to work in a winery and most of those I have worked in were big so you covered a lot of ground not to mention climbing up steel steps to get to tank tops and so on. I also do trail running and mountain biking and blessed that we have such great mountains at hand to do both. I love scuba diving and the reefs in Australia was great for that.”

Q.  You have packed a lot of quality experience into a short space of time. Please give a brief run-down of what you have done ?

“Well you know I studied first at Stellenbosch. Once qualified I couldn’t wait to travel where I worked for Hardy’s in McLaren Vale in South Australia , also with them in Margaret River  in Western Australia. I then spent a harvest in a small Southern Rhone cellar in France and another with Jordan Vineyard and Winery in California. I started at Nederburg in 2005  and was there until 2009 when I was accepted to do a Masters, jointly hosted in France, Italy and Spain. I returned to Nederburg in 2011 and joined the Bergkelder team  in 2013.

While in Europe doing the degree , which consisted of the study  of viticulture, wine, terroir and marketing  in the Groupe Ecole Superieurs d’Agriculture  (Groupe ESA).  I was appointed Chief Winemaker at the KWV in September 2016. I am looking forward to working with a young dynamic team with access to some of the best vineyards in the country.  I also look forward to continuing with the KWV’s pioneering legacy in creating wonderful wines that delight our consumers.”

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PHILIP VILJOEN – BON COURAGE WINEMAKER

Q. Where were you born ?

“I was  born in Robertson on 1st April 1991.”

Q. Do you get teased about being born on 1st April ?

The answer comes with that charming , trade mark grin. “There was a time I was constantly teased about being an April Fool but I think I have proved otherwise !”

Q. Where did you study ?

“I went to Elsenburg and received my bachelor’s degree in Oenology and Viticulture.”

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

“Not really. There is only so much that you can do with wine.  I do think winemakers distinguish themselves from other winemakers by the way he or she  pays attention to the finer detail. I’m a strong believer in doing  the ten small things perfectly.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

All of a sudden, very serious. “The truth be told, not enough. If I get a chance to see what the vineyard team is busy with, I’ll take it but unfortunately it happens seldom. The cellar keeps me really busy but it id definitely on my priority list to get out more.”

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

“At this stage, not really. What I really love about Bon Courage is the opportunity to work with a big variety of cultivars from MCC, Desset wines, Dry white and reds and even Mampoer !” Then continues “We have a big collection  of cultivars on the farm so I’m patiently trying to see what each vineyard  block has to offer. So far  I’m really spoiled with great vineyards with amazing character. It makes it difficult to pick a favourite, but eventually I will have to narrow it down. I don’t want to look like a jack of all trades but master of none.”

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

“Winemaker – yes. Wine region – not at this stage. I think every wine region can make any type of wine and has something unique to offer.  Lourens van der Westhuizen , winemaker at Arensig Winery, once described it correctly saying we have so many terroir pockets, for instance, Robertson. Pockets where you find ideal climate for whichever cultivar you want to grow. I also admire Charles Hopkins at DFe Grendel for his attention to detail and Bartho Eksteen for his originality. Not to mention  Jacques at Oom Andre Bruwer of Bon Courage.”

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

With a great deal of modesty.  “ I am still young, my hall of fame is pretty empty, but luckily last year I was in the right place at the right time and I received the Diner’s Club Young Winemaker of the Year award and only then realised what a big deal it was. I can honestly say after that night I do know how it feels to be in the life of Brad Pitt for one day with all the cameras flicking !! “

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

“I would not really say “secrets” but one of the main aspects that probably  differentiate  one from another  is how well you manage to extract your varietal’s character for that specific vineyard and to balance it out with the correct oak. I do think it is very important to use the right oak  with the right varietal and also  to determine the right amount of it. I personally love to smell the vineyard  in the wine and believe that oak must be used carefully and only to add some complexity to the wine.”

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

“Technology has made our lives much easier, especially when you harvest a few hundred tonnes. The two types of machinery which I am most thankful for is probably a destemmer and a wine pump, without those two you can still manage. I also have to admit I still enjoy  a good old punch down. I like to see it as an early  morning gym session and have a good work out !! During modern winemaking you still tend  to go back to the old ways  for instance picking by hand ! I like using a mixture of the two worlds.”

Q. What of the future ?

“ I grew up in Robertson with a typical countryside living style where everyone knows everybody. It is a friendly town where the majority still greet each other in the town.  My parents farm about 4 km from  Bon Courage  and I am spoiled  to still enjoy daily  lunch with my parents. If Robertson should ever host a master chef competition my mother would , without doubt, be the champion !” In a different tack “After school I got the opportunity to go to Johannesburg for a year to play rugby and became a full blooded Lions rugby supporter. I then returned to the Cape to go to Elsenburg where I received a great education. I had a very influential lecturer in the form of Lorraine Geldenhuys. After that I did few vintages overseas.” “My main challenge is to get to know the vineyards I am working with. I am very pleased with the 2016 reds  and I can’t wait to see the process through.”

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WILHELM DE VRIES – WINEMAKER AT ALLESVELOREN

Q. Where were you born ?

“In Stellenbosch”

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

“ I did I B.Sc Agric (viticulture and oenology) at University of Stellenbosch.  Graduating in  2000.  The I did a Post Graduate  Diploma  in Management practices  specialising in Wine Business Management at University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business and graduating at end of 2015.”

Q. Do you consider your approach different to others ?

“No !  But like most young South African winemakers, with great dedication.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“Every day. It is just part of what a winemaker must do.”

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

“Shiraz. So Allesverloren is just perfect for me.”

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

“No. However, being here at Allesverloren the Malan influence has it’s effect ! ”

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

“Being able to make strong strategic moves in the cellar and in my duties on the estate in field of marketing. “

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

“I do not have any secrets.”

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

“It is important to have a good balance between old and new. At the end of the day one still needs to make a profit.”

Q. Are you the first Non-Malan to be winemaker at Allesverloren ?

“ There were Assistant winemakers before me but I am the first to have the title of Manager/Winemaker. So one can say that I am the first “non-Malan” winemaker but for overall marketing Danie  Malan is still the man. Also, after all the many years of Malan influence at Allesverloren things don’t just change !”

Q.  You say “many years”. How many years have the Malans been involved ?

“Daniel Francois Malan  arrived from Wellington in 1870 to take over the farm which was considered to be all lost after a raid by the San people. Slowly but surely he put the farm in order. In 1945 the farm was divided between two sons and the one who got the portion with the old farmstead began making wine specialising in Port style wines.”

Q. Now days you make a lot of non-port style wines ?

“As the demand for port declined the port varieties were used for dry red wines and other varieties were  planted hence the Allesverloren Cabernet sauvignon.” He continued “We also make a fortified muscadel but you will see the strong influence of port in our Touriga Nacianal dry red and Tinta Rose.” “We are also famous for our Shiraz.”

Q. What of the future ?

“I believe it will be possible  to get more South Africans to enjoy wine. We must all stop being so snobbish about wine, then people with no wine knowledge will feel more comfortable to drink wine .”

Q. Do you have any idea how to do this ?

“We are doing our best by providing a beautiful venue at the foot of the Kasteelberg for weddings and functions. Here people can drink wine while eating good Swartland food in the most glorious surroundings.”

Q. When you were studying at Stellenbosch did you ever think you would manage such an estate ?

“No way but I will still be fully involved with winemaking and set on my goal to get more people enjoying our great South African wines.”

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Louis Van Der Riet – Winemaker a De Krans Winery in Calitzdorp

Q. Where did you originate ?

“I was born in Worcester on 13th February 1987.”

Q. Was it a Friday ?

“Funny enough it was but in my case it has been a lucky day !”

Q. Where did you study ?

“I went to Elsenburg where I  was successful in diplomas Viticulture and Oenology.”

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

“No, I think all winemakers can only strive to bring forward the heart of the wine by guiding it in the right direction.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“As much as possible , but that is not nearly enough.”

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

“I like our traditional Chenin blanc and of course port varieties where Touriga Nacional is my favourite.”

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

A very enthusiastic reply. “ Oh yes, the Douro in Portugal has definitely had an effect  on the way I think about vineyards , Wine and winemaking.  Also in South Africa we are blessed with amazingly talented winemakers from small to massive production cellars. I try to learn from everyone I meet.”

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

With a great big grin. “To get through the harvest without losing your sanity ! I have been blessed with a list of lifetime achievements, but the most special was when I released my first own label wine.”

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

Now all serious. “No secrets. A lot of hard work and long hours in the cellar during harvest to grind the work out. As soon as you think you are better  than to pull pipes around  you’ve lost the plot and never think you know everything about wine !!” It is the quest to learn  that makes your wine different.”

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

“Not really an issue. I work in an old cellar with old equipment. We have a very hands on approach to winemaking. Literally. We still empty some of our lagers  with buckets into an old basket press. However, I think modern knowledge is very important. To keep up with new research and to be able to think modern knowledge is very important. To keep up with and use new research and be able to understand what is happening and be able to change, adapt or implement where necessary is vitally important.”

Q. What about the future ?

“I’ve always had a passion for Portuguese  varieties. I think I have only scratched the surface about understanding how to plant and produce great wines  from these varieties. I do believe these varieties are excellently suited to our South African  climate and terroirs and I would, one day, like to see more wineries planting and producing great quality Portuguese varietal wines and  South Africans to understand and develop a love for these wines.”

Q. Haven’t you already  done this ?

“I suppose you refer to the Diners Club Young Winemaker of the year in 2014 when I was a finalist with a dry red wine made from Tinta Roriz . Traditionally a port variety but we have proved we can make outstanding natural dry reds from it.”

Q. That wasn’t all ?

“Yes, we have done well in a number of competitions with dry wines from port varieties. The Novare South African Terroir Awards has been kind to us when we won a National award for our 2013 Tinta Roriz.” He continues with a smile “There is a lot more to come. Just watch this space !”

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