What was the defining moment in your life which set you on the path of becoming a winemaker?
In December 1997 I returned after a two and a half year stint in Europe, not knowing what to do with my life. A mate suggested that I join him as cellar hand for the 1998 vintage at Slaley. Having no knowledge and experience about wine it was very overwhelming for me when I walked though the cellar on my way to the interview, not knowing what’s lying ahead for me. During the first 2 weeks of grafting in the cellar it was a shock to my system – long hours and hard work was a far cry from my relaxing travel days in Europe. I still remember thinking “who’s crazy enough to do this for a living”. But then on a day towards the end of harvest, everything changed when the Kiwi winemaker at that time, gave me a work instruction. The instruction read as follows: “Crack open 29 eggs, separate the yoke from the white, add two egg whites per barrel to the ’97 Shiraz #2.”
Standing in Slaley’s barrel cellar with a big frown on my face, I realised there’s mystical winemaking world which I know nothing about, and I want to know more. And so my never ending quest to know more about wine, began.
Where did you train to become a winemaker?
After a harvest at Slaley and another three at Sentinel Wines, I enrolled at Elsenburg in 2002 which was another shock to my system. Ten years after school I suddenly had to study my gat off again – and I’m not a study type of guy!
Who would you regard as your mentors?
There’re not many, but working at Walter Finlayson really answered a lot of my questions. The way he understood a wine and his ability to see the best in every blending component and to focus on that, really had a big impact on my winemaking philosophy.
You work with a selection of some of the world’s most noble grape varieties at PB. Is there one other variety with which you would really like to work?
On a recent trip to Italy, I was introduced to Verdicchio and Aglianico. I would love to see how they would perform under SA conditions.
Is there wine you would like to make in the cellar with the varieties available to you there and not already made on the Estate?
No, we basically do everything, but I would like to make a non-cultivar NV red blend, based on the Solera system. One eventually ends up with very complex wine which can be a blend of 20 or 30 vintages. It’s a wine you could make for the rest of your life and even my grandchildren can keep the tradition going. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
You seem to be quite innovative with new wine styles – what leads you there?
I’ve learnt over the years that one must not forget to listen to a wine and that you should allow a wine to lead you. In this way I often stumble on a new idea or technique which is then usually very rewarding afterwards.
If you could choose anywhere in the world to make wine other than where you are now, where would it be?
Anywhere in France. And not because of the whole French stigma, but because of the heritage, tradition and the history that inspires me. To work in surroundings where man-made structures can be older than South Africa’s history, really fascinates me. I am a dreamer after all.
And what grape type would you use?
I know it is a bit tricky asking a parent to choose a favorite child, but which one of your PB wines is your current favourite?
Ouch! It’s a difficult one, cause it keeps on changing, but after all it was a 1997 Shiraz that kick started my love affair with wine (and with my wife, really), so I’ll stick to my all time favourite, Shiraz.
Your greatest bottle of wine ever? [And you can’t say one of your own!]
Here’s really no answer!! The problem is that I usually don’t remember the specific wine, just the occasion that went with it. And it’s always a red.
Do you enjoy cooking to show your wines off at their best or do you leave that to others?
I’m no good chef, but I love cooking and for me it’s all about balancing flavors on your palate. Unlike chefs, winemakers usually choose the wine first and then decide what to eat with it. Food brings out the best in every wine. So yea, I like pairing my wines with food and it usually becomes very specific.
What do you enjoying cooking most?
Steak on the braai. It’s not just a braai, it’s an event. When you see me again, ask me about my steak and Shiraz experience. I’ll tell you all about it.
What is your favorite style of food?
Italian. I love how the Italians make an occasion of every meal. You appreciate food more this way.
Your best style of restaurant, you enjoy visiting? Why?
A restaurant where the portions are small, but the variety is big and in over supply. Again, eating is all about the experience and occasion for me. In today’s fast living we often forget to make time for decent eating and to enjoy the moment.
Your ideal dinner party table of 6, dead, alive or fictional, and why you choose them.
Simon van der Stel: If I could time travel, I would travel back to the 1600’s in the Cape to go visit him. I’ll take with my hunting rifle, fishing rod, corkscrew and first aid kit. Walking home from the winery I often catch myself gazing at Perdeberg Mountain thinking how it must have been here 300 years ago and Simon van der Stel can answer all those questions.
Bono: A rock star lives life on a different level than most normal people like me. The stories and experiences he has to tell would make for great entertainment.
Richard Branson: From a high school drop out in the 50’s to being a multibillionaire today, he’s bound to have some good advice for me.
Albert Einstein: I would love to pick his brain for a while.
A good friend: Cause a good experience is always better when shared with a good friend.
President Zuma: With all the influential people around the table, something good is bound to rub off on him!!
Your favorite holiday destination?
SA’s Garden Route, cause it even smells like holiday there.
What is on your bedside table as reading matter at the moment?
I don’t read in bed, I sleep in bed and dream about books which I’ve forgotten I’ve read…
One piece of music you would take with you to a desert island.
Led Zeppelin, Remasters. It’s a timeless collection of music and there’s something on there for every occasion.