In Interview with a winemaker

Once described as “Enfant Terrible’ but now looking more like your kind, friendly and wise uncle.

Q : Do you think you deserved the title ? 

“If you look at the definition of being terrifyingly candid and so embarrassing people, then “yes”.  I was simply direct and honest” he continues “Some people considered me “outspoken and in your face” but that is just how I am.”

Q : Have you changed ?

He says : “I might have aged but I’ve not really grown up !” and continues “I am heading to my mid-fifties but still feel like a 19 year old boy but I am not the guy  who started at Vergelegen in 1997.”

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

A serious reply “Not really. My wines reflect their terroir. I try to avoid any techniques that diminish the perception of terroir.” And continues in the same vein “As a large volume producer I am dependent on technology but I use it intelligently. I am a scientific winemaker. I think about what I am doing.”

Q : How involved are you in the vineyard ?

“When I was at University I told my professor that I wanted to make the best wine in the world. He replied that I really have to select the site as it all has to do with the vineyard. So, “yes” I am very involved with the vineyard”.

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

“I seem to have my best results with red Bordeaux varieties but I enjoy the challenge different varieties present. “ Then with some defiance   “ I definitely do not like pinotage !”

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

“Regions are interesting but winemakers  have a greater influence.  My region of influence is Vergelegen. It is surrounded by mountains,  close to the ocean and gives me a 1000 micro climates to work with.” Then after some reflection  “I have some winemaking heroes but a number have died. Diedier Daqueneau, Gerard Jaboulet and Haut Brion’s winemaker Jean-Bernard Dalmas. His son, Jean Phillipe, succeeded him and the knowledge was passed on, almost like genetic material.”

Q : What was your best experience in the wine industry ? 

“My visit to Vinexpo in 2001  when I personally met Madame May-Eliane de Lencquesaing of Chateau Pichon Longueville, Robert Mondavi and Warren Winiarski of Stags Leap and was presented with The  Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Trophy for the Best Blended Red Wine World Wide  for my 1998 Vergelegen  Flagship.”

Q : What was your greatest winemaking achievement ?

“Producing consistently elegant and ageworthy wines”

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

With a lot of thought “ I have a very modern winery  sunk into the top of a hill. People are impressed that it is gravity fed  and people say the wines are more gentle because of minimal handling but  it also s means there are a lot of steps to go up and down all the time and I am not as young as I was. There really isn’t much scientific evidence that this plays any significant role.”

Q : What of the future ?

“I believe my best is still to come because the more recently planted vineyards will come into production and deliver  better fruit than we ever thought possible. I want to experience that.” And he smiles.

Q : Who is the greatest love in your life?

“My wife, Maritza.”

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