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New World Wine Maker Blog - winemaker interviews

Richard Duckitt – Red Winemaker at Boschendal

Q. When and where were you born ?

“I was born on 24th September 1982 in the Somerset Hospital. However I come from Darling and from a long line of well-known farmers.”

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

“I studied at Elsenberg doing their diplomas in Cellar Technology and Viticulture.” Then added “That is a great institution and being an Agricultural College  you get to see all manner of agriculture including animal husbandry and so , I believe, their graduates are better all-round farmers/winemakers.”

Q. What was your first job when you left Elsenberg ? 

“Almost across the road with the Melcks at Muratie. That was a great experience  to start your career.”

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

“All winemakers will have similar interests and a basic winemaking foundation, but I am a technical and focussed individual always looking at the little things. I love experimenting and tasting. I also  don’t force any wine into something that it’s not.” Then adds with a grin “If that makes any sense to anyone ! It needs to express itself and I believe in natural freshness and balance.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“At Boschendal we have a designated viticulturist, but I venture  into the vineyards  as often as I can and never harvest anything without thorough prior tasting. “

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

“Shiraz has always been the top spot, but I am developing a love for Bordeaux varieties. They are definitely more challenging. “ Then adds “I really love a challenge. “ The carries on “ I found that I enjoyed working with cabernet sauvignon when I was in Sonoma, California.  In Spain Tempranillo was good while in Italy Barbera and Nebbiola filled the bill.”

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

“For us at Boschendal the vineyards and regions play a huge role ! The different styles that the regions deliver has helped build and distinguish our different brands, and I am hugely privileged  to work with so many  different varieties and origins. It is humbling, and also makes me proud to see the variety of styles that our South African terroir can produce. My favourites  seem to come from altitude sites, or cooler coastal vineyards, but I have proved myself wrong on many occasions !” He adds with a grin.

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

He answers with seriousness.  “I didn’t become a winemaker foe awards or recognition. For me it is, however,  highly rewarding  to see people just enjoying the wine. To be a skipper of the Boschendal Red wine ship is probably my biggest achievement, and through my whole career I have been working toward this kind of responsibility.”

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

“The realisation that one cannot fiddle  too much, but gently guide with winemaking intervention. That means harvesting at the correct time, ripe tannins, natural freshness. And no dominating new oak. Also trying new things and seeing what works best for certain areas and varietals.”

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

“We have a new crusher de-stemmer that makes a huge difference in our Bordeaux varietals  by removing almost all the stalks and green berries. Much more so than conventional machines. I believe in using what works best and if there is new equipment that can have a quality impact we will most certainly look into  it. Saying that we bought a hand cranked basket press this year and it was one of the best buys ever ! So new is not necessarily best.”

Q. What brought you to be the Red winemaker at Boschendal ? 

“Well I grew up on a Duckitt farm in Darling so I am a farmer at heart. I matriculated at SACS and then went to Elsenberg followed by three vintages overseas. The a few locally before spending ten years  at Franschhoek Vineyards. I joined Boschendal in May 2015 as their Red Winemaker.” Then continues in serious vein “As you know Boschendal has been producing great wines for years and have made great strides in the market place so one does not want to change what works or re-invent the wheel, but we constantly look for ways to improve and tweak in pursuit of perfection. We also have some exciting new wines that will be released soon.” Then adds with a mischievous grin “I have been sworn to secrecy so cannot tell you more!”

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Kobus Van Der Merwe – White Winemaker at Kwv

Q Where do you originate ? 

“I was born in Montagu in the Klein Karoo  on 1st March 1983.”

Q Where did you study ?

“I was fortunate to go to Elsenburg Agricultural college where I was successful in obtaining a Diploma in Viticulture and Cellar technology which is another way of saying Oenology.”

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

“I wouldn’t say so, but I do trial a lot on experimental basis  to find the sweet spot to express terroir as best as possible,”

Q How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“Oh dear, not nearly as much as I want to, but it is very important and key to be involved as much as possible to produce wines in the style and quality wanted. At KWV we are lucky to have some truly expert viticulturists who are very good at what they do.”

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

“I have a lot of passion for white varieties. I spend a lot of time experimenting with techniques on different varieties and to determine the versatility of each and the different outcomes are very satisfactory.”

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

“When travelling in New Zealand , especially the Marlborough region, I became very fond of their white wines. The winemakers were very open with what they did but too many to single out any particular person.”

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

“ To see how much the wine lovers enjoy  my wine and have the stock totally sold out well before the next vintage.”

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

In a humble manner. “I have no big secrets but try to be innovative in my winemaking and try all possible ways even if it sounds stupid ! You never know how a new idea will work out and , at the end,  it could become a great success.”

Q How important is modern winemaking equipment in your winemaking ? 

“We all know just how expensive modern winemaking equipment is. However, if it can work to it’s optimum it can have a very positive effect in terms of quality and also reduce losses. If a piece of equipment can enhance quality and minimise losses and through this generate payback, it is a must to have in the winery.”

Q How did you get interested in winemaking ?

Answer came with great enthusiasm.  “I grew up on a wine farm and the best time of the year was during the harvest when I helped my father to transport  the grapes to the winery. I was fascinated by the winery and all it’s machinery and the whole process of winemaking.” He continued with obvious enthusiasm.  “I bombarded my father with questions and he encouraged me  and he developed my great passion for winemaking.” And then “After school I was lucky to be accepted by Elsenberg to do my studies  and then set off  to gain experience locally and then overseas  to New Zealand and California. “All of which has helped me enormously.”

Q What about the future ?

“I don’t see myself in any other business but the wine industry. If winemaking has flowed in your veins you will never get rid of it !” “Then I have a gorgeous wife and a beautiful 10 month old daughter to look after.”

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Introducing Warren Ellis – Winemaker Neil Ellis Wines

Q. Where do you originate from ?

“ I was born in Constantia in 1980.”

Q. Where did you go to school and where did you study winemaking ?

“Senior School at Paul Roos in Stellenbosch the University of Stellenbosch where I did a BSc in Viticulture and Oenology. Then, eventually, MSc in Viticulture.”

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

“In some ways yes. I think  I’m a lot more open minded to the use of the technology that is available.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“Not as much as I’d  like to , as the cellar takes as lot of my time. Between 2007 and 201 I was more involved but we had two winemakers  back then !”

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

“That’s easy. Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.”

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

“My Dad for starters and Andre van Rensburg.  I’d like to think that my way of thinking with regards to making of the different varietal wines is influenced by some of the European regions where they originate from.”

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

“Every time a wine consumer congratulates me on a job well done. When your wine is a benchmark for other winemakers.”

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

“I do not believe in keeping secrets from my peers. I’d like to share any knowledge that I have acquired that might help them in the industry.”

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

“Unfortunately we do not have very modern equipment. But I think one has to keep an open mind with regards to technology whether it is removing alcohol, adjusting pH or evn additives like tannins for certain roles.”

 Q. How about the future ?

“We at Neil Ellis are still very much focused on our different varietals in different regions. We are just fine tuning what will work best for us in some of the regions.”

Q. What about the Webb Ellis wine ?

“As you know the trophy for the rugby world cup is the “Webb Ellis” trophy. Well my Mom, Stephanie, was a miss Webb. So we launched the “Webb Ellis” to coincide with the last World Cup. It was totally sanctioned by all the correct authorities.  A blend of 65 % Cabernet Sauvignon from Jonkershoek and 35 % Syrah from Groenekloof in Darling and then well oak aged. Only 600 bottles were made available. A really great wine making its mark for South African wines on the world stage.”

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Introducing Justin Van Wyk – Winemaker at Constantia Glen

Q. When and where were you born ?

“I was born in Beaufort West in the Great Karoo in  1984.”

Q. Any significance between Beaufort West and Beau Constantia ?

“No…. but it is a cute connection !!”

Q. Where did you study ? 

“University of Stellenbosch/ I graduated in 2007 with a BSc (Agric) in Viticulture and Oenology.”

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

“No, not really. I think all of us strive  to turn the grapes into good quality wine by the purest and healthiest means possible.”

Q. You mention grapes, how involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“ I get very involved in the vineyard, hence my fairly nonchalant answer to the previous question. I firmly believe wines can really only be altered or dramatically improved in the vineyard, so all vineyard practices from choice of cultivars, pruning, trellising and canopy management are vital tools used to steer the grapes toward style and quality. In essence we are farming for flavour, because we can’t make flavour in the cellar”

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

“I really enjoy working with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, especially with barrel fermentation and blending the two in the best possible ratio. On reds I love working with syrah and Cabernet Franc, mostly because of the diverse styles one can make from each of those varieties.”

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

“The St Emilon appellation of Bordeaux, where the vineyards  are more important than the size and grandeur of the Chateau. The most impressive part is how they achieve elegance and finesse together with incredible power in their wines with blends made up mostly of Merlot.”

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

“Being able to balance two winemaking jobs with a family life and giving sufficient quality time to my wife and two daughters !”

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

“No secrets. The only “secrets” can perhaps be the knowledge that comes with working with the same vineyards  for a period of 7 to 8 years. This timeframe allows one to really understand a vineyard and even certain sections within a vineyard that give different nuances and qualities. Hopefully this can help in improving the final wine, compared to using vineyards for the first  or second time round.”

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

“Modern winemaking equipment that makes one’s life easier and is beneficial to the health of the wine is always helpful. For example we  have argon system that can be used to keep all tanks inert whilst storing wine in tanks after fermentation. Even tanks on ullage are kept safe, so this is important and very helpful. But, I suppose, that is the only bit of modern equipment, so maybe not exactly important. I suppose the cooling system can be considered modern !”

Q. Any overseas involvement ?

“Yes. St Emilon in 2008 and Napa Valley in 2010.

Q. What has been your greatest moment ?

“The birth of our first daughter ! Obviously knew she was expected but not quite so early. I had to go directly from the winery to the hospital on a Friday afternoon . She is still full of surprises.”

Q. The future ?

“I intend to enjoy the magnificent Constantia Valley.  In the future there may even be my own little “own label” wine project. Watch this space !”

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Meet Chris Alheit – Winemaker at Alheit Vineyards

Q. Where did you originate ?

“I was born in Cape Town in 1981”

Q. Where did you study ?

“I was a student at University of Stellenbosch and graduated in 2004.”

Q. If you are a product of University of Stellenbosch which was pretty prescriptive at that time, how did you get your ideas on grape growing and winemaking ?

“Most of our ideas  came from our connections in Europe. It was here we developed making low intervention wine.”

Q. Your approach to winemaking is very different to others ?

“Yes. It’s very different to the vast majority of winemakers in South Africa. The only addition we ever use is sulphur. We strongly  dislike new oak. As a well known South African Winemaker says “ Why do you want your South African wine to taste like a French tree ?”  He continues “”I think  that late picking in South Africa is a missed opportunity pretty much every time.”  After some thought “Why work so hard on a beautiful old block of wines, only to drown it’s character in new oak ?”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“VERY. I think separation between vineyard and winery is a bad idea. We are very involved with the farming. We believe in farming as close to nature as we can, and encouraging naturally healthy soil. This is paramount in making fine wine. Dead soil gives dead wine.”

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

Immediate response “Traditional Cape varieties such as Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Cinsault.”

Q. Why white wine ?

“We really love white wine but also love red but our real fascination is with white wine. We love its flavours and purity. We think the Cape’s true strength is in its white wines. But we also make some great red wines.” He follows “Historically the Cape was white wine. Red has become fashionable fairly recently.”

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

“I think the Swartland guys have been a big influence. Plus Daniel Vollenweider in the Mosel in Germany. Also fascinated with Lanquedoc, Roussillon and Provence. Also Tegan Passalacqua in California. “

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

With a broad grin “I’m still working on that ! Anyway, I think that most winemakers think too much of themselves and of what we do.  It isn’t really rocket science.”

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

“Probably allowing the must to develop without interference prior to alcoholic fermentation, so zero sulphur nor gas cover at pressing or settling. It’s risky, but the payoff is worth it.”

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

“It doesn’t feature, unless you consider a bladder press from the 80’s as modern !”

Q. What of the future ? 

“Our winemaking business has revolved around heritage grapes and older vineyards from the outset. This will continue, but we will bring in a strong focus on planting new vineyards in new places, hopefully establishing vineyards that our grandkids will be proud of.”

Q. There was a time when your wife Suzaan was very involved in the business ? 

“In the beginning she was very involved but since the kids have arrived she’s a full time Mom. She still does a bit of admin here and there. She’ll jump back in when the kids are grown.”

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Adi Badenhorst Winemaker at Badenhorst Family Wines

Q : When and where were you born  ?

“I was born in Wynberg in 1972.”

Q : Where did you study ?  

With the mischievous grin that most of his contributions were given  “I studied at University of Stellenbosch  for a few years  before I was asked to leave as a result of my poor academic record ! After much persuasion and bribery I was accepted at Elsenberg Agricultural College. It was here that I found my calling. I studied oenology and viticulture under the great Eugene van Zyl.”

Q : Where did you make wine before Badenhorst Family Wines ?

“I had nine vintages  at Rustenberg where I made some serious wines .” “After Elsenburg I worked a few harvests at Chateau Agelus, and in the north of Rhone in France  and with Wither Hills in New Zealand. In South Africa I did stints at Simonsig, Steenberg and Groote Post.”

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

“No, we simply work with what we have.’ Then with a broad grin continues “ Lack of cash flow and love of vinyl has determined many of our approaches in the cellar !”

Q : How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

With a determined seriousness “I spend a lot of time in the vineyards’. He continued, “I grew up in Constantia and as a kid spent a lot of time stealing grapes which gave me time to perfect my picking techniques !”

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

“All the varieties that we work with are extremely different and interesting in their own right. The old vineyards of Chenin are simply sublime. Our Grenache and Cinsault, are some of the oldest vineyards in South Africa, have an infectious energy to them and this  somehow translates into wine too !”

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

With some deep thought “A person like Eben Sadie is a complete enigma. We are good friends and I enjoy his wisdom and beautiful wines. Serge Hochar from Chateau Musar was also someone with whom  you talk about life. I love the wines of Burgundy and the Jura and the German wines from that long winding river “ (The Rhine !) He continues “It all started with Jean Daneel, then the winemaker at Buitenverwachting , who let me make my first wine when I was thirteen !!”

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

“A gold medal for Cinsaut at the one and only show in South Africa, the Jongwynskou !”

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

“Not too important at all !” (Adi actually boasts  about  the lack of equipment.!)

Q : Thoughts on the future ?

“We will continue to make wines of authenticity and honesty. We will plant new vineyards to become old for future generations. We will look after and tirelessly care for the older vineyards.”  Then with that tongue full in his cheek “ We will braai every fortnight at 5 am in the morning !!”

Notes  :  In 2008 Adi Badenhorst and his cousin Hein bought a 60 hectare, neglected old farm in the Swartland. The cousins have restored the neglected cellar which was last used in the 1930’s !  A A Badenhorst  practice  biological farming and make wines in very traditional ways.

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