In Interview with a winemaker

Q. When and where were you born ? 

“Port Elizabeth on 24th March 1974.”

Q. Rather  unique place for a winemaker to come from ?

“Yea, I know that Bruwer Raats was born there but did his schooling in Bloemfontein.”

Q. What made you go for wine ?

“I always had a passion for nature and my Dad was in citrus so as a youngster I spent hours in orchards. However I wanted something more creative and wine seem to tick all the boxes. Outdoors, creative, natural and potential to offer lots of satisfaction”

Q. Where did you study and what qualifications did you have ?

“I received my diploma in Oenology in 1995 at Elsenberg Agricultural College .”

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

“I work on gut feel most of the time. I think this is something you master  only with experience. I want to show purity of fruit and bring out the terroir in the wines .”

Q. How involved do you get in the vineyard ?

“I get involved from budburst until harvest.  The viticultural guys  and I work together as a team to achieve the quality of grapes needed to achieve the quality of wines we make.”

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

He answers with a smile:  “I love Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. Chenin because it is such a forgiving cultivar and Pinotage  because it understands me! You want the variety to understand the winemakers thoughts, not the other way round. That’s why winemaking starts in the vineyard.”

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

“I have never worked under any winemaker so created my own signature of wine styles. If I think back to a time that may have influenced my way of thinking, it must have been the two weeks I spent in Napa and Sonoma in 1999. I learnt how they go about picking at tannin ripeness and also how they made Pinot Noir. A lot of that I implement today in making my Pinotage.”

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

“No doubt that being accepted as a Cape Winemakers Guild member.  To be seen as one of the elite  winemakers in my country. For me it is more important to be consistent than being remembered for one trophy or a couple of double gold medals.”

Q. That is quite a statement from a guy who has just won the Diner’s Club Winemaker of the Year for 2016 ?

“Well, that is undoubtedly a great honour but being invited by your peers to be a member of the Guild is still the greatest.”

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

Again with that infectious smile “If I tell you it won’t be a secret anymore ! No secrets but basically just making wine with minimum interference in the cellar. Minimum fining and filtration. pH management is of utmost importance, especially with pinotage.”

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

“ Not really important. To have whatever equipment in working condition and to have all equipment sterilised after working is more important. And, of course, adequate cooling for cooler fermentations.”

Q. You say you never really worked under a winemaker. How come ?

“When I graduated in 1995 I commenced my winemaking career at Niel Joubert Wines in Paarl as Chief Winemaker !”

Q And then ?

“I accepted a challenging appointment in 1998 at Moreson in Franschhoek. It was here I that I gained most of my winemaking experience and began to travel the world.”

Q. When did you move to Rijks ?

“After experience in Paarl and Franschhoek I headed for Rijks in Tulbagh and into totally unknown territory in 2002.”

Q. You have helped other cellars ?

“Yes , during the past 14 years at Rijk’s I have consulted for various wineries in the Tulbagh area in an effort to improve all the wines of the area.  During this time I won  numerous awards  and then in 2007  I went to the Northern Rhone in France  to work for a vintage to gain a different perspective.” He carried on “Despite the French visit I believe to this day that my wines have a unique signature which is a direct result of never being an assistant and working under prescribed winemaking conditions.”

Q. To wrap up ?”

“When Rijks started out in 2000 we made wine from10 different cultivars. In 2006 we took out all but Chenin Blanc, Pinotage and Shiraz. We believe that by doing that we can keep on being consistent in making quality wines and become one of the icons in the South African wine industry.”

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