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New World Wine Maker Blog - winemaker interviews

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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Sebastian Beaumont – Beaumont Family Wines

Q. Where were you born ?

“In my home town of Bot Rivier, the centre of the universe !”

Q. Where did you study ?

“I studied at Elsenburg and graduated in 1998 with a Diploma in Viticulture and Enology.”

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

With some thought but with that ever present hint of a smile “There are so many approaches to wine making. Some of mine I inherited  from what was already going on when I arrived on the farm.” With a more serious note “ Through Mentors like Niels Verburg, our first real winemaker and my mother I learned about the circumstance of our farm. “ Then the smile returns “we always seemed to take the road less travelled approach. Trying to discover what our farms terroir could produce best, trying new varietals and at the same time just trying to survive in an ever increasingly  competitive wine   market ! Working with what I had and relatively limited  resources , like no flashy equipment. My winemaking style has been about adapting to my unique situation.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

With enthusiasm “Absolutely. My first few years before I took over from Niels, the original winemaker, were 80%,  spent in the vineyards, taking over from  my father, absorbing his knowledge and his instinctive feel for what needed to be done whatever the situation. I consider this one of the greatest strengths of my winemaking. I have grown up with these vineyards and have travelled over these soils for 42 years !! I still work with Chenin and Pinotage vineyards that were planted in1974 ! Such a great privilege and I feel very in tune with them !”

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

With no hesitation “Chenin for sure !”. Then with serious note “I am trying to master the demi-sec at the moment !. Pinotage too, it’s almost as challenging as Pinot Noir.  Then there is the hidden beauty of Mouvédre. Might not be pretty on the outside but it has great personality and character.”

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

“Old Arthur Pillman was a very early influence and all my friends that I have made in the wine industry. They are always influencing one to look at new ideas.”.  “My visit to the Loire in 2005 showed me a lot about what great things they do and also how even they can lose the plot in a super ripe vintage like 2003 !”

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

Very serious “I think the decision I instinctively took in 2005 to focus our range and discontinue bottling Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay . Then  focus on our Chenin’s under the Beaumont range. We still make the other varietals but they go into our second label.  From a strategic point of view it helped to focus me on making sure our Chenin’s were the best.  Some thought it was a crazy decision but I will never regret it. Slowly the reds are being  focused on pinotage, Syrah and Mourvédre and a blend of these. Fortunately, I realised early on in my winemaking  that I couldn’t make wines to satisfy everyone’s taste. I had to make wines that I could enjoy and then I could sell them to just about anyone !”

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

“Nowadays I have no “secrets”. I am always happy to share ideas and learn more.”

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

With a great smile  “Oops, I was resting my head on my 1987 model 3 ton Vaslin press a few days ago and dreaming of a new press  ! Not all modern is better. I work with a wonderful  mix of concrete Kuipe and closed tanks from the 1940’s when the winery was originally built !”. “I have a way of keeping miggies off my kuipe by piping CO2 from the white fermenters onto the skins of the reds in order to give them maximum pre and post maceration.  One has to be inventive.”

Q. And the future ?

“My family is vital in my life. Nici is an amazing wife.  Farm, family, wine and surf, what else could one want ? I have just agreed to buy the farm from my mother so that is a dream come true !”

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Introducing Adam Mason – Winemaker at Mulderbosch

Q. Where do you originate ? 

“I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, but the family left when I was only six years old. The family lived in Borrowdale and I spent one very happy year at Vainona Primary”

Q. How on earth did you get from there to being one of our top winemakers ? 

With a nostalgic expression “Plants were always the initial spark, I’d spend hours as a child hanging out with our gardener, now its my happy place at the  end of the day and on weekends. However, it was in a gap year spent travelling  and working in France that led to my destiny. I worked as a porter in the Muscadet vineyards not far from Nantes. When I returned home, which was Johannesburg I enrolled in my first year at WITS, then headed south to continue the degree at Stellenbosch. Graduating with a BSc in Viticulture and Oenology.”

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

With a bit of thought “Aside from genuinely novel  technology, I don’t believe there is anyone making wine in a truly unique way, that has not drawn on either a previous generation, or people living in a different part of the world.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

Again some deep thought “As much as possible, but  it is still not enough !”

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

With a knowing smile “I find I am more influenced by different sites rather than varieties.”

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

“I’ve  been fortunate  to work with some very precise, serious winemakers over the years, but the two that have impressed me the most are Gyles Webb of Thelema, and Andy Erickson whom I worked with in Napa Valley.”

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

Without any hesitation “Playing a role in the production of Vin de Constance for 8 years was not only a great privilege, but taught me much. The fact that the 2009 which I was very involved with is the highest rated South African wine ever by Wine Spectator. Very special for me.”

Q. You had international experience before Klein Constantia ? 

With serious reflection “I was appointed at Klein Constantia in 2003 and before that did various things including being based in France  as a contract winemaker for  Laithwaite’s , the world’s  largest wine mail order company with cellars in Bordeaux, Languedoc-Roussilon , The Rhone. During this four year period I worked alternate vintages in South Africa at Boschendal and Flagstone. All great and valuable experience.”

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

A bit of an abrupt  reply  “I don’t believe in secrets !”

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

An almost throw away answer “10 ton pneumatic presses and forklifts certainly lighten the load. Otherwise it’s the yeasties that do most of the work !”

Q. What of the future ?

With his boyish smile “My love for plants lead me ultimately to a career in winemaking, and I am enormously grateful for the journey thus far. Who knows what the future holds, but whatever that may be, I am sure it will be made all the more bearable through the strict administration of a daily glass of wine and the opportunity to reflect on the day’s efforts !”

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