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New World Wine Maker Blog - winemaker interviews


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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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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