In Interview with a winemaker

Q.  Where were you born ? 

“In the small diamond mining town of Oranjemund in Namibia.”

Q. That is a long way from winemaking country ?

“Sure is and winemaking was not my first inclination.”

Q. How did it come about ?

“In 1966 I went to the University of Stellenbosch with the idea of becoming a vet. As a first year student it is all about  trying new things  and experimenting.  Being in the heart of one of the most beautiful wine producing areas in the world, it was a natural to visit wine farms and taste a lot of great and not so great wines. It was certainly rated as one of the favoured  extra-curricular activities.  Let me just  say that veterinary  science took a back seat ! Sixteen years ago I was not so sure I’d be offered a winemaking position being a woman, so I studied Oenology  but also specialised in microbiology and chemistry.  I finished my BSc Agric in 1999. With only one harvest under my belt at Hazendal I applied for a job as an Assistant winemaker at Simonsig. At the age of 23 , I was appointed the first female winemaker in the history of Simonsig. I was to be in charge of the red wines, the pressing cellar and the cellar staff. Some of my cellar staff had been working at Simonsig before I was born !! It was not just a challenge but a life changing  experience. Like any job you have good and not so good days but I wouldn’t trade my job for any other. “

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

“Although there are basic guidelines to winemaking there are so many different facets where you can differentiate yourself.  I try and capture the true essence of each varietal and try to express the terroir  through the grapes.  I am a control freak to my own detriment ! However, I believe meticulous attention to detail  gives me an edge.”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“Not as much as I should. During harvest time I go to the blocks regularly and taste the grapes. Timing is everything.”

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

“I love working with pinotage because of its versatility and then, of course, the king of all kings, Cabernet Sauvignon.”

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

“Johan Malan is my mentor and his knowledge and experience is very inspiring to me.”

Q. What would you consider your greatest winemaking achievement ?

“Woman Winemaker of the Year 2005 and my Redhill Pinotage 2003.”

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

“I am not so sure about a “secret” but definitely a “philosophy”, I am not trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to winemaking. I stick to the basics and do them extremely well. People  who have come to know and love Simonsig wines want consistency year after year, but at a high quality standard. This is the point of difference for me.”

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

“One needs to keep up with the times and if new machines and equipment  can save you time and money, I am all for it. How much they move the needle in terms of wine quality advantage, well that can be debatable. We are naturally reliant on machinery especially because of the volumes of wine we produce and the premium  quality we produce at.”

Q. How about family life ?

“Very happily married and have two beautiful daughters. We live on Thelema where my husband is the Farm Manager. We have the obligatory farm dogs. A Boerboel named Dumba who is a mini lion and Tobie our die hard Jack Russel.

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