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New World Wine Maker Blog - winemaker interviews

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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Introducing Carl Van Der Merwe – Winemaker at De Morgenzon

Q. Where do you originate from ?

“Born and bred in Cape Town.” With a bit of after thought “I have stayed near the sea and mountains ever since. I live in the greatest wine producing area in Africa, namely Stellenbosch.”

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

“Before deciding on a career, I did an in-depth analysis of what I wanted and needed in a job to best express my values and interests. I narrowed it down to natural sciences in an agricultural field and being a lover of outdoors, figured that working in the winelands, which tend to occupy some of the most beautiful spots on earth, was the best option.  I studied a BSc majoring in Business management and Oenology at the University of Stellenbosch.”  “ I planned my course of study and have spent a lot of time travelling around the world to various wine regions in search of inspiration and perspective.”

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

“Yes, very definitely, I am not mainstream !”

Q. How involved to you get in the vineyard ?

“Very. I am involved in all practices that have a qualitative impact. We try to match vineyard to wine style and thereafter the production team works very closely together.”

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

“Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay really sow the hand  of the winemaker , and therefore  pose a great challenge in the winery in order to let that vineyard shine.”

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

With sincerity “I try to learn from all people and have made it my mission to meet and taste wines made by people who are driven by passion and conviction. They may not always be right, but I find that I learn much more from these types of winemakers than winemakers who make wine according to a recipe.”

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

“Winning Platters “white Wine of the Year” two years in a row.”

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

Very serious “I don’t have any secrets …..I only try to understand the vineyard site I am working with, and in doing so create a style for a particular wine that is great quality and consistent from year to year. I guess what makes my wines different is that I use a minimum intervention approach and use a little additive as possible. Natural yeast, natural settling, minimal to no use of tartaric acid, minimal to no filtration, minimal use of SO2 etc.”

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

Sort of matter of fact “Not very important. We could probably be seen as “old fashioned”   in that we don’t use modern sorting machines, centrifuges, cross flows, etc. Having said that, technology is all a part of human advancement, and there is a place for it, however it’s not a turnkey solution to great wine.”

Q. How do you see the future ? 

“As you know I studied at Stellenbosch and chose to blend a mix of business subjects. This has proven invaluable in running a successful wine business. I am married to the woman of my dreams and am gifted with three wonderful children. I have been working at De Morgenzon with the Appelbaum’s for six years and I am enjoying the challenge of building an iconic South African estate.” After some deep thought he continues “I am motivated by success stories, and the more time I spend at De Morgenzon the more driven I am to continue the success.”

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Natalie Kuhne – Assistant Winemaker Perdeberg

Q. Where do you originate ?

“I am another non-Kaapenaar. I was born in Kempton Park, Gauteng.”

Q. Where did you study ? 

“I am a product of the University of Stellenbosch where I did a BSc. Agric Oenology and graduated in 2007.”

Q. What made you interested in wine ? 

“I came to Stellenbosch to study Bio-organic chemistry to get into Forensics but then made a friend who was doing viticulture. One day I went to a practical with her  and fell in love with the vineyards. That made me change my degree.”

Q. How did you come to be at Perdeberg ?

“Perdeberg has experienced considerable growth  and have a new barrel cellar and needed someone to assist cellar Master Albertus Louw. I was lucky to be appointed to that new post in 2015.”

Q. What did you do before Perdeberg ?

“ While still at University I worked in the experimental cellar then I worked at Avontuur Estate near Stellenbosh for a few years then moved to Allee Bleue Wines at entrance to Franschhoek .”

Q. Do you consider your winemaking to differ to others ? 

“I think winemaking is a bit like cooking, while it is good to follow  recipe, sometimes you must be guided by your taste buds and your mood. I try not to overthink the wine….I try and let the wine speak to me and from there I will fine tune things.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“At the moment, at Perdeberg, not much.  Our viticulturist , Heinie Nel and Production manager, Albertus Louw look after the vineyards.”

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

“I have an affair with Pinot noir and Cabernet franc ! I love the finesse you can get in Pinot noir and I think you either get it right or not ! It can be diverse, depending on the area it is planted in. I prefer the more fruity style, but have had some lovely earthy styles. Cabernet franc is such an interesting variety and prefer the Helderberg area., mainly because you get that greater greener style.  I had success with these varieties at Avontuur in 2008 and 2009.”

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

“As yet I have not travelled  overseas but each area I have worked in the Cape has taught me just how important origin is.”

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

“It is early days yet but my first four star wine was a great moment.  It was a Shiraz I made at Avontuur. This wine was to become part of their premier range, named after their first stallion, Dominion Royale.  It took a lot of tasting and selection with many potential blends. After some five months I was pretty sure of two combinations and a good idea which would be best.  It was confirmed by the GM and bottled as the 2008 which was a very hot year  with high alcohols. It is a big robust wine with a mixture of white pepper, and black fruits with 15 % alcohol. It is developing beautifully.”

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

“I don’t have any secrets but as mentioned I treat each wine on it’s own and listen to the wine.”

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

“It makes life a lot easier especially when working in big volumes.” Then adds, after a bit of thought “As long as things are working properly !”

Q. What do you think the heat of 2016 will “do” to the vintage ?

“It will keep me on my toes, for sure. It will be another interesting year for reds. Very concentrated flavours.”

Q. What do you prefer to drink when relaxing ?

“In summer I love dry rose. Some would say I am in my “Rose phase” ! I enjoy  fresh Sauvignon Blanc or a slightly chilled Pinot Noir. In winter our Cape red blends or Shiraz. I n very good company I will take out my special Cabernet Franc.”

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Interview with Nadia Barnard – winemaker at Waterkloof

Q:  Where do you originate from ?

“I was born in Pretoria.”

Q : How does someone from Pretoria get to be winemaker in the Cape?

“My Dad worked for a large company and was transferred to Somerset West.” She continued “Once the novelty of the ocean began to wane I realised the entire country was covered in grape vines. Then at school, Bloemhof in Stellenbosch. some of my friend’s parents were involved with making wine or growing grapes.” Then added, with great enthusium “ “My Dad often took me to wineries while he was buying wine. He often gave me taste and I enjoyed what I tasted.”

 Q :When you graduated where did you first work ? 

“Well I  did my first student vintage at  Flagstone. Then did another vintage there in 2007. Then I set out to travel the world ! I did a vintage at Coonawarra in Australia.  Then moved to the Northern hemisphere and did a vintage in Burgundy, In 2008 I worked a vintage at Vergelegen. Then back to New Zealand for a short stint. Then back north for a vintage at Chablis.

Q  When did you settle back in South Africa ? 

“I joined the Waterkloof team at the end of 2008 as assistant winemaker and was appointed winemaker for the 2013 vintage

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

“At Waterkloof we try and not interfere with nature in the winemaking but it is in the vineyard that we really differ. Winemaking is all about taking your time and getting to know your vineyards.

Q  Does having your vineyards certified fully biodynamic make a difference ?

“Of course it does. Our vineyards are chemically free and we make all our own compost using traditional biodynamic methods. This ensures healthy soil full of bacteria and oxygen  and as a result a perfectly balanced vineyard ideal for the production of the best grapes”

Q   And what about the Percherons ?

“I must say they are an added attraction and serve a purpose in the narrowly planted old vines”

Q  You mention old vines , you have been making a wine from 40 year old cinsaut ?

“Yes , and it has turned out particularly well. It was given four and a half stars in Platter ! Described as having ripe blackberry notes, dark cherry and plum.”

Q  With the mention of old vines then there is you at the tender young age of 30 in charge ? 

a somewhat bashful reply, “I accept I carry a great responsibility but the entire team at Waterkloof are dedicated to producing the best.”

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

“Bottling my first Waterkloof Sauvignon blanc”

Q  Have you developed anything “secret” that makes your winemaking different any others ?

“No, not really. Leading up to vintage I go back to tasting the grapes all the time”

Q   How important is modern winemaking equipment ? 

“Not very. Although the winery building is strikingly modern the winemaking is pretty conventional. We do have a new Coquard press which is based on the traditional basket press.”

Q  If Nadia is not in vineyard or cellar where is she most likely to be ?

“With the winery situated high up in the Schapenberg you would probably find me powering along a trail in the mountains on my mountain bike !

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