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New World Wine Maker Blog - winemaker interviews

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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Introducing Miles Mossop – Winemaker at Tokara Wine Estate

Q. Where did you originate ?

“I was born in Mobray, Cape Town.”

Q. How did you get into winemaking ?

“I grew up in Somerset West and my Dad was a great wine enthusiast so it was fairly simple that I was influenced by him.”

Q. Where did you study ?

“I was a boarder at Wynberg Boy’s High. Then off to Stellenbosch where I graduated in 1995 with BSc in geology and geochemistry then I succumbed  to the inevitable and did viticulture and oenology graduating in 1998.”

NB Reference to ”inevitable” : Miles father was a not just an enthusiast but well known wine judge, wine writer and winemaker with his own winery making port at AXE Hill in Calitzdorp. Not to mention a great character and one of the original three Cape Wine Masters.

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

“Not really. Attention to detail is my mantra.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“ I am very involved in the planning, input into canopy management, crop levels and I make the crucial decision when to pick. I am not involved in the day-to-day spray programmes, irrigation and fertilisation.”

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

“ Hmmm, that is difficult to say. On reds it is probably Cabernet Sauvignon. With whites it  would be a toss up between Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.”

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

“Gyles Webb was my mentor.” “I also had various stints working overseas  which were valuable in my development. In 1999 I spent a vintage at the prestigious Knappstein winery in Clare, South Australia.  I worked the vintage of 2000  as a cellar hand  with Alain Parrelin Condrieu  France and then 2001 at Planeta  in Sicily.”

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

“No doubt, being nominated and accepted into the Cape Winemakers Guild.  Then this past year being  elected Chair for this current year.”

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

With that disarming and very boyish smile he cheerfully replies “I can’t share those with you otherwise I would have to kill you”

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

With serious attitude “Very important to make life easier but one always needs to look to the traditional techniques which work and have always been around for that precise reason.”

Q. Besides Tokara  you also have your own label ?

“Ja, that is our family business. The wines are under my name “Miles Mossop” and each one dedicated to one of our children. When we launched with 2004 vintage named after our first two children. Max a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Eventually Malbec was added to the blend. The Saskia a blend of Chenin Blanc, Viognier and later  Clairette blanche. In 2009 we introduced  Kika a botrytis Noble Late Harvest from 100 % Chenin. “

Q. What about the future ?

In serious tone but very relaxed.  “ Well I have been with Tokara for 16 years  and had my own brand for 12 years. I have been married for 14 years to the most wonderful woman, Samantha,  and have three tremendous kids. So all seems pretty  good. “ He continues – “I am passionate about fishing and surfing so those will always play a part. “  Then after a little thought “I intend to keep making better wines and take Tokara to the very top. I also want to surf Hawaii one day !”

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Mathew Day – Winemaker at Klein Constantia

Q. Where do you originate ?

“I was born in the deep South of Johannesburg without a vine in sight !”

Q. How did you get from there to having a plumb winemaking job at Klein Constantia ?

“It was my Grandfather. He taught me all things great about farming and then late one afternoon he introduced me to a bottle of Rustenberg John X Merriman. This sparked my fascination for wine. To be involved in farming and have your end product to be wine. How better could the world be ?”

Q. So how did you get from there to being a winemaker ?

“I studied at University of Stellenbosch and graduated with BSc Agric in Winemaking  and viticulture.”

Q. And then ? 

“Well then I set out on my travels and working in wine to gain experience in a whole lot of winemaking areas.” The adds as a bit of an understatement “I have been fortunate  to gain experience in some great wineries.”

Q. Such as ?

“I guess I could start with Meerlust. Then there was Elderton in the Barossa Valley. Chateau Belefort Belclair in Saint Emilion. I was an intern at Chteau Trianon, also St Emilion and at Dancing with Hares in Napa.” Again as an after thought   “ I also spent some time in Pomerol, Sancerre and Tokjai.”

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

With some serious thought.  “That’s a tough question because everyone thinks they are special in terms of what they do. I feel that I have been privileged enough to have the opportunity to learn from lots of successful winemakers  across the world and meld all of their ideas into what we do today at Klein Constantia.” After some thought “My predecessor at Klein Constantia have laid magnificent foundations to build on.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ? 

“I would love to be more involved  but I feel I have my hands full in the cellar but we have a great vineyard team.”

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

Without hesitation “Sauvignon blanc. However here at Klein Constantia  we have to deal with many different varieties.  My aim is to make one of the best Sauvignons Blanc in South Africa and to make one of  the best sweet wine in the world.”

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

“Pascal Jolivet from Sancerre has been one of my biggest inspirations. I am privileged enough to go there every year. Then, Adam Mason and Chris Williams have been great mentors.”

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

“Having the privilege to make Vin de Constance as well as to be part of it’s heritage.”

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

Quite humbly “Less is more and don’t overcomplicate things.”

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

“Not at all. I believe in sticking to the basics.” He continues  “In producing our most famous wine, Vin de Constance, We employ the most ancient of methods with  open top wooden vats and hand punch downs.”

Q. What about the future ?

“My aim is to make a truly Klein Constantia style wine and the only way to do this is by respecting the terroir and thinking out of the box.”

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