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New World Wine Maker Blog - winemaker interviews

CHRISTIAAN GROENEWALD – EAGLE CLIFF WINES AND NEW CAPE WINES

Christiaan Groenewald  founded New Cape Wines in 2000 and produces wines under various names including “Eagle’s Cliff”. In Afrikaans “Arendskloof”. A pair of rare black eagles which have made their nest in the cliffs overlooking the vineyards served as inspiration for the name and label design.

Q : How did you get into winemaking ?

“I am a student of University of Stellenbosch where I studied viticulture and economics with some winemaking.  At first I entered the business world and then in 1997 I became involved in the export of wine.  In the same year my Dad died and I had to take over the farming and winemaking”

Q : What then ?

“Quickly discovered that i needed a more  modern cellar so in 2005 I built one !”

Q : You were hardly qualified to do that ?

With a steely look and firm face he replied “When you have to do something you do it. I had learned a lot from winemakers and the SFW wine-buyer Jeff Wedgwood. In fact Jeff was a saviour at the start with his enormous knowledge especially of the area. When I was involved with exports I learned a lot with my eyes and in discussions.  Once I was producing in my own cellar Jan Boland Coetzee was a great help. He didn’t teach but rather instructed ! He is so deliberate and sincere that you can’t help but to take it in. You just know he is correct.” He adds with a grin “ With him there is no argument !”

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

With that disarming smile “Yes, I think I am different. I am not a trained winemaker but had to get into it so I am not held by any particular convention but I am professional in what I do.”

Q : How involved are you in the vineyards ?

With a serious face “I am very involved in my vineyards. This is where you start to make wine. In every aspect. Clones, soil types, row direction, canopy management, water supply. Everything counts.”

Q : What about region ?

With obvious affection “I love my region, Worcester, because we don’t have bad years just  some years better than others and some years fabulous. In the main, very consistent.  I still think we have yet to make our best red wines while I can almost guarantee good value for white wines with the occasional great whites. With Chenin blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot grigio.  I love my area but get my sauvignon blanc from Elgin !”

Q: What has been your greatest achievement ?

With a big grin “Being the 2013 Diners Club Winemaker of the year. It is the most saught  after award a winemaker can get and only one per year ! That has been tremendous for business.  Then, of course the 2011 blend of Tannat and Syrah is a tremendous wine now and will still develop  very well.”

Q : How important is having modern equipment in your success ?

Serious again “You need a clean cellar and modern equipment  makes that easier. There is modern equipment I will get when I can afford such as computer controlled cooling.”

Q : Do you have any “secrets” ?

Still serious “I use good grapes and try to make natural wines. I do not interfere but  correct yeast and keen temperature control is essential.”

Christiaan is in excellent physical condition as he has to be as he competes each Year in the great cycle event “The Cape Epic”

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WILLIAM WILKINSON – WILDEKRANS

William Wilkinson says he is a citizen of Hermanus ! He moved into the area when his dad took up the position as Vineyard Manager at Hamilton Russell Vineyards. My granddad was also in the business so it was a natural development that I went that route.

Q : How did you become the winemaker at Wildekrans ?

“ I did stints at Backsberg and Hamilton Russell and was just very lucky to land the job !”

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

“I don’t really suppose so.  The emphasis in the cellar, as in the vineyards, is on meticulous attention to detail with the most gentle of winemaking techniques. We strive to deliver elegant, well balanced, fruit driven wines.”

Q  : How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“Whether in the cellar or vineyards the winemaking and viticultural team  follow low intervention approach and we share everything. We are in an eco-friendly area and we use snail gobbling ducks that rid our vineyards of those tiresome and destructive pests. So, yes I do get involved with all the farming but Braam Cericke is an excellent farmer.”

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

“I am a huge supporter of Pinotage and Pinotage driven blends. Our  pinot noir vineyards are coming into production and this might have an influence towards my favourite !” On reflection “Pinotage is proudly South African and so am I….well sometimes” and naughty laugh follows. As an after thought “I love barrel fermented  Chenin.”

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

With great enthusiasm “Wow, I am tremendously influenced by the Hermanus region. Its one of the world’s  newest wine producing areas.” He continues seemingly without taking a breath”…and now producing some of the World’s best wines. The cool from the Atlantic and with Overberg warmth it has ideal summer , perfect for phenolic ripening of grapes.”

Q  : And people ?

“ When I first started at Wildekrans the previous owner Dr Bruce Elkin gave me a great start and I worked very closely with him . Others who I learned from were Mark Carmichael-Green, Niels Verberg, Eleonor Visser, Nicolas Follet and Francois Naude senior.”

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

With some serious thought “I don’t think I have got there yet but all the accolades I have had for my pinotage make me very proud. Then the nomination in 2013 as a finalist in the Diners Club Winemaker of the Year with my 2011 Wildekrans Cape Blend Barrel  Select Reserve.” He continues with a twinkle in his eye “ The way it is developing it would probably win today !” Then , “Being awarded the “Novare” trophy for the top wine estate in 2012”.

Q  :  Do you have any secrets or methods you have developed ?

“Not really, as I mentioned it is tremendous  attention to detail and working as  close as we can in concert with nature.”

Q  :  What about the future ?

Very serious “ Our goal is to become a cellar of international distinction and a world class wine destination and we are well on track to achieve this !” He ponders awhile and continues seriously “This must all happen with my wife Belinda and son, Turner  and myself being a very happy family “

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MIKE DOBROVIC – WINEMAKER AT HAVANA HILLS AND CONSULTANT

Mike Dobrovic is a product of the university of Stellenbosch . For almost two decades he was the winemaker at Mulderbosch.  In 2009 he moved to do his own thing including making the wine for Havana Hills and consulting to others. Mike  was considered as “The Mad Professor” while at varsity and is very well read in science. He is also well versed in philosophy and psychology. Mike was founding partner with Dr Larry Jacobs of Mulderbosch in 1991. He had previously been at Delaire. Mike is still the gangling, amiable, untidy somewhat nervous with a penchant to tell outrageous  jokes with the odd bits of Rumi thrown in.

Q : Do you think your approach to winemaking is different to others ? 

“I didn’t think so but then my results seem to show otherwise. “

Q : How involved do you get with the vineyard ? 

“ Absolutely fundamental to get involved in the vineyard. Where ever I have worked I have been fully involved with the farming. The vines up at Delaire  on Bothma’s kop produced characters very different to those at Mulderbosch. So it is imperative to be involved with the vines.”

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

The comedian had to eventually show “I have no preference in the variety I work with but it really is the vine that must do the work !” Then back to being serious “I made my reputation with Sauvignon blanc so I guess that is my preferred variety but I have tremendous satisfaction from the red Bordeaux varieties from which I made Faithful Hound and eventually chenin blanc which I preferred by it’s local name Steen.” He continued with an almost embarrassed note “I also planted hundreds of indigenous trees, many endemic to  Stellenbosch but becoming rare. These trees had been ripped out to make place for the vine mono-culture.  I used to escape into the trees for regular ten minute chill-sessions !”

Q : What was your most memorable wine experience ?

“It was when I was working with the late Graham Ried of Anchor Yeast. It was a time when literally thousands of wines were experiencing stuck fermentations . This is when a fermentation becomes sluggish or stops altogether.  Graham allowed me some input on developing a yeast nutrient. He had the  ability to understand fermentation like few other yeast producers and would listen rather than dictate. His nutrient has saved the industry many millions of rand and at the same time improved quality. I feel I contributed to that.”

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

“A visit to New Zealand before the 1994  vintage fired me up and also helped to confirm a lot of the ideas I had and give me confidence to do what I believed.”

Q : What do you think was your greatest achievement in winemaking?

“I guess the  phenomenal reception of my early sauvignon blanc which had the  New York Observer saying our favourite from anywhere in the world ! Not bad for a fellow with  a degree in agriculture and a doctorate in humour !” Mike ends rather drily.

No mention of Mike would be complete with out a reference to Rumi especially with his work on preserving the Cape’s Floral Kingdom …

The cloud weeps, and the garden sprouts.

The baby cries, and the mother’s milk flows.

The Nurse of Creation has said, let them cry a lot

This rain-sweeping and sun-burning twine together

To make us grow. Keep your intelligence white-hot

And your grief glistening, so your life will stay fresh.

Cry easily like a little child.

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Introducing Linley Schultz – Alvi’s Drift Wines

In July 2001 Distell appointed Australian winemaker, Linley Schultz, as their chief winemaker as part of their preparation to assault the world market. Linley arrived in South Africa with his wife and children and has now become one of our leading winemakers with a very keen mind on marketing and the international market. In December 2009 he moved to Alvi’s Drift not only with the charge of the production of the wines for Alvi’s Drift but also to determine the winemaking style and direction liaising with the sales teams and development of the brand  and creative development of new products.

Q : How did you get into wine ?

“Well first of all after leaving school I did not have the qualifications to study winemaking ant university so I had to attend night school to get my Matric. Then I went on to Roseworthy  Agricultural College which became part of University of Adelaide. Here I obtained a Bachelor of Applied Science and Oenology.

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

With a fairly serious frown “No, I see things in ultimate quality like most winemakers. Making the best wine you can is an easy goal. However, where I seem to differ from many is that I find the final quality at a price point to be of considerable interest.” He continues after some more thought “No point making it if no one will buy it ! “

Q : How involved do you get with the vineyard ? 

“I also don’t hold great importance in soil. You need good soil, but the idea that you can taste the soil in the wine simply doesn’t work for me. Climate is more important than soil.” “Having said that I would like to be more involved with the vineyard but we have very good folk doing that. “

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

With relish “Riesling is an old favourite. Then I guess Chardonnay and Shiraz”

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

Immediate and definite reply “Barossa and Eden Valleys.”  “ Phew, people ? Pat Tocaciu, John Bird, Steve Lienert, Neville Falkenberg, John Duval, Moss Kaesler, Philip John, Ian McKenzie, John Vickery. All different  winemakers who made great wines and all passed on information to me in a very generous manner.”

Q : What do you consider your greatest winemaking achievement ? 

With obvious pride “ Making the winner of the Adelaide Trophy with the first vintage of Yatarna chardonnay. The first time a white wine had won the award.”

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

With genuine expression “Modern equipment makes life easier, improves juice yield, speed things up which helps to balance the books and so on.” Then with genuine belief “You don’t need fancy equipment  to make great wine.”

Q : Do you have an ideas about the future of South African wine ?

“The future of South African is still not clear to me.  I see chardonnay and pinotage playing important roles. It is vital we build a great South African brand that is world acclaimed but produced in sufficient volume to allow wide distribution and therefore the ability to convert significant numbers of wine lovers to South African Wine.” He adds with some reservation “That is still some way off.”

>> CLICK HERE TO GO TO ALVI’S DRIFT WINES

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Introducing Johann Fourie

I have judged wines with Johann and he is one of the most thorough, accurate,  correct and efficient judges I have worked with over all these years.  He has the outward appearance of being an easy going, easy smiling, amiable guy. This covers a deep passion to produce beautiful wines.

Q : How did you get to be the Chief Winemaker at the KWV ? 

With that pleasant smile “I graduated from Elsenburg/Cape Technikon with diplomas in Cellar Technology and Agriculture and a passion to make excellent wines that people would  want to drink” He continues without being asked  “I knew I could make wine but I wanted more so I enrolled  at University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business and then went on to University of Melbourne in Australia where I added a certificate in Wine and Business Management and a Leadership Development qualification”.

Q : Then ?

“I came back to the real world of winemaking and viticulture and had four years at Badsberg Cellar in Rawsonville where I was promoted to Winemaker. Then I obtained  a position with the KWV in 2006 and had the great and invaluable experience of working with Richard Rowe.” (Johann  became Chief Winemaker in 2012)

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

A somewhat hesitant but smiley reply “ I am sort of half way between the exactness of Science and the unknown of art and somehow, this philosophy usually serves  as a bridge to bring them together.” He continues at a pace “I enjoy the weird and wonderful and being creative and following my instinct but I am also a firm believer that all of this needs to be backed by sound technical knowledge of what you are working with and how that reacts and interacts when used in different ways and how then to go about things.”

Q : How involved do you get with the vineyard ?  

With a serious expression “ Very ! My first four  years in the industry was as a viticulturist and that will always be part of me.  I am able to pull what I see and taste in the vineyard through to the winemaking, into the final product and the brand itself.  It’s what makes me tick and must be an advantage over winemakers who don’t have that background and feel”

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

With a chuckle “No, not really. They are like your  kids, love them all, but boy are they different.” “No two wines or vintages can be approached the same way. It is up to you to make sense and adapt your approach to get your desired result or wine style.” After a little thought “There are so may so called “new” varieties to get acquainted  with. “

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

“Most winemakers I have worked with have influenced me some way or another. Their approach / philosophy.  A number of winemakers have engraved something into me. Willie Burger, Henri Swiggers, Bertus Fourie, Richard Rowe, not prima donna guys but guys who have taken their time to talk, invest , share and mentor youngsters like myself. Also Neil Ellis and Charles Hopkins.”

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

Big smile “I think I am still to get there ! Sjoe, difficult. Maybe the entire 2014. Veritas most successful producer 4 years in a row and record breaking numbers of Gold, Double Golds in the history of the Competition . Old Mutual Trophy Show, Winemakers  Choice Diamond awards Best Producer.” With some thought  “The  EKOV Best Performer Shield” , this is extra special because you are nominated and voted for by your Peers in the industry.”

Q : And the future ? 

“To continue to be innovative with new varieties, clones and regions and align  varieties to terroir and be at the forefront of winemaking innovation and pursue continual wine style evolution. “

Q : To end ? 

Big smile “I believe Happiness is homemade and that is what home, my wife and two kids are, Happiness”. “Without that you can’t make great wine !

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We are delighted to announce that Johann was Awarded the Jan Smuts Trophy for the best wine at the 2015 Young Wine Show. The Young Wine Show is the world’s oldest continuous wine competition and has the most valuable collection of floating trophies in the world. The Jan Smuts trophy is awarded to the BEST wine on the Show. It is one of the most prestigious awards a South African winemaker can get. Johan is the chief winemaker at the KWV and it was their wooded red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz (Very traditional South African red blend) that was awarded the Jan Smuts trophy. They beat a little more than 2,100  contenders. Johan and his team also collected the Pietman Hugo trophy for the cellar with the highest marks for entries in five categories plus a trio of South African Champion Trophies. The overall champion was also awarded the best red blend on show. They also got the trophy for the best chardonnay and the SA Champion for Other Red Cultivars with a wooded Malbec.

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Interview with Gerhard Swart (Bruce Jack / Accolade Wines)

Gerhard Swart does not look old enough to  be involved with an alcoholic beverage let alone be  in charge of such a top operation.  A lad from the “platteland”  (a country boy)

Gerhard Swart

Gerhard grew up in the Boland and Bredasdorp. He obtained a diploma in winemaking at Elsenburg Agricultural College in 1999.

Q : Who was the greatest influence in your approach to winemaking? 

With an almost impish grin he replies “My father. From a very young age  I learned about attention to detail. He was a bank manager and was very precise. So to me it became second nature.”  Then with a thought he continues “When I started my career I was assistant to Pieter Castens at Slanghoek.  He taught me absolute attention to detail. So detail was important.” After some more thought “ Then I started with Bruce Jack and he taught me to find the hidden gem in each and every bunch of grapes and to go looking for those unique terroirs that make winemaking an adventure and not just another job.” Gerhard hastens to add “Chris Keet taught me how to bring out the best in each vine and to understand the vine’s language from vineyard and then all through the cellar.”

Q : How involved are you in the vineyards? 

“I get grapes from the most Southern tip of Africa to one of the highest vineyards in the Breedekloof and six other regions in between so it’s not easy but I try to be involved in every step of the vine’s growing cycle.” “We work  very dedicated farmers and some for over six years. Bruce has known some for more than ten years. So we have a good understanding of vineyards and the farmers.” He casually adds “Which is essential.”

Q : Do you favour any region above another?

“My parents grew up in Bredasdorp and have retired there. My formative life was spent there so I have  a special place in my heart for Elim and surrounds.  However, each region gives it’s own special character. My “Music Room “ Cabernet sauvignon is a good example. Same variety  but is a blend of wines made separately from grapes grown in Aston, Elgin and Breedekloof.”

Q : What do you consider as your greatest achievement?

With a chuckle of delight “Winning the General Smuts trophy at the Young Wine Show in 2010 with my  Semillon. I was probably one of the youngest winners and for a Semillon to win was magic !” He is quick to continue “Then to win the best producer at Veritas with under ten entries for the past two consecutive years.”

Q : Do you have any secrets or developed your own methods?

He is thoughtful in his response. “There are no secrets at Flagstone.  I am always willing to share what I do. We stick to the basics and are led by the grapes and we try to protect the grapes that our Heavenly Father has given us in any specific vintage. It is all about doing the right thing at the right time and always know what is happening from crushing, through fermentation and the aging process. Bruce always says “First do what is correct for the grapes and afterwards we will worry about selling it !”

Q : What about modern equipment in your success?

With a serious note “We don’t have a state-of-the art cellar.” Then with that impish grin “ I could not do without the computer managed cooling system as this makes control just so very effective.”

Gerhard is very happily married with a beautiful wife and two “princesses” one eight and the other three.  He is an outdoors man and if the South Easter blows he is on his surf board. Otherwise  “I cherish the time I spend with my family”

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