CWG Protégés 2013 Harvest Reports

It is with great pleasure that we recount the hustle and bustle of Harvest Season 2013 and share with you the reports of the Cape Winemakers Guild Protégés, who are hard at work behind the scenes. This year we have seven protégés in the programme: Elmarie Botes, in her last year, Philani Shongwe, Chandré Petersen and Heinrich Kulsen in their second year and three new protégé’s – Wade Sander, Ricardo Cloete and Thornton Pillay.

 

Elmarie Botes – Greetings from Jordan

The last leg of an amazing journey has arrived. The winter of 2012 was one of the best in many years with more than enough cold units, full dams and subsoil reserves. In addition, Stellenbosch experienced one of its hottest summers, peaking with the arrival of the new year. The first grapes, Sauvignon Blanc arrived at the cellar on the 5th of February. Initially harvest started out slow with more or less one block a day. As the temperatures increased and grapes reached their phenolic ripeness in vineyard more and more blocks were picked per day and all of a sudden the cellar was extremely busy. The first of the red grapes to arrive at the cellar was the Merlot that will be used for the No Sulphur wine. The grapes for this specific wine should be harvested early to ensure a low pH that will “protect” the wine seeing that no SO2 may be added. After working with only red grapes for a year (at Kanonkop), it took me a while to get use the techniques and methods for producing white wine. Not only did the cellar activities need adapting, but my palate as well. It is really valuable experience working with such a vast variety of cultivars and producing different styles of wines.

I’ve recently tasted my two barrels of Pinotage, which I made at Kanonkop last year, and I am impressed with how well the wine has developed and the lovely structure and elegance it has acquired.
 

Philani Shongwe – Greetings from Groot Constantia

The 2013 harvest has been seen as a late harvest, as it was the case in the year 2012. The quality of white varieties, more specifically, that of the Chardonnay used for the Methodé Cap Classique was outstanding. Sadly, white varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc were not as fortunate. They were doing very well up to the veraison stage and then a sudden rainfall caused rotting in certain parts of the vineyards. It is not the end of the world though, since the flavours and lovely acidity in the berries had already been achieved. In my opinion, it looks like it is a good year for red varieties, since they are having a long ripening period which contributes to gradually ripening and hence fuller flavours, as well as soft tannins will developing in the vineyard. The first grapes to come in - on the last week of January 2013 - were the Chardonnay, which we use for our “bubbly” or known formally as the Méthode cap Classique. Chardonnay provides the fresh, floral and citrus characteristics, and ensures longevity and maturation ability for the bubbly. All our grapes at Groot Constantia are picked early to retain high acidity levels, acting as a natural preservative over the long course of the wine’s development. In addition, lower sugar levels ensure that the base wine has low a low alcohol volume since secondary fermentation will boost it later.

We have also introduced Pinot Noir which will be blended with the Chardonnay. This is going to be the first Groot Constantia MCC with Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is known for contributing elegance, complexity depth to the wine.
 

Chandré Petersen – Greetings from De Grendel

The year 2013 arrived and brought with it many challenges and opportunities. I have the privilege to work with a fantastic team at De Grendel where we both support, and challenge each other. I couldn’t ask for better mentors than Charles and Elzette. They guide me through my whole winemaking process and support me with decisions according to the wine. In January of this year, I had the opportunity to attend the Michael Fridhjon’s Wine Evaluation Course, where we tasted hundreds of different wines. My spectrum of wines from around the world, different cultivars, wine vocabulary and types of wine styles expanded dramatically over this weekend. At first I was very shy and nervous to lift my opinion about the wines. I could see the passion that he and the guest speakers have and it now drives me to enhance my own tasting ability. I decided on making a Pinot Noir from Ceres Witzenberg. My grapes arrived on 27 February – I cannot describe the feeling of receiving your first grapes. From here on in the ball was completely in my court. The area I sourced my grapes has a very cool climate with a slow moderate ripening process. The yeast, tannin and types of barrels I chose are all based on a specific type of Pinot Noir: fruitful, cherry aromas and elegant. At this moment the grapes are marrying with the yeast and nutrients.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the outcome of my wine is going to be. In the last few months, I have learned so much from the best in the industry and I doubt anything serious would go wrong. My heart is in it and nothing is holding me back. The year is still young and my wine bucket list for 2013 is over flowing. My goal is to achieve everything I’m capable of.
 

Heinrich Kulsen – Greetings from Villiera

What an amazing experience I’ve had so far at Villiera Wines. When I finished working at my previous cellar, with high hopes and expectations, I didn’t for one moment doubt that Villiera would meet up to standard. All of the staff had heard about me and were eager to meet me. So, with great excitement, I started my first day at Villiera in December and all my dreams came true (as cheesy as that may seem). I’ve met a bunch of wonderful people so far and every day I get to know them a little better. My mentor, Jeff Grier is a very wise man and I learn a lot by simply being in his company. Villiera has a big cellar - we harvest about 1800 tons each year which is an enormous leap from my previous cellar where we only did about 350 tons. The advantage of working in a large volume cellar is the fact that you get employees who have been working here for 20 – 30 years. These people know their stuff. Together with Jeff and Christiaan, I decided to make Chenin Blanc this year as my wine for the CWG. Chenin Blanc is South Africa’s most widely planted variety, mainly due to its versatility. I am making a Chenin Blanc which consists out of three different components; oxidized, micro oxidized and reductive. I am hoping for something interesting to come from this whilst also simply “touching” the juice with some exotic wild yeast.

Wade Sander – Greetings from Le Riche

My time at Le Riche thus far has been nothing less than intriguing. It has been extremely valuable to be able to see behind the scenes of a functioning ‘boutique’ wine farm, especially when working alongside and being mentored by the wealth of experience at the cellar, giving me the opportunity of gaining priceless practical experience. It has however also been a challenge becoming familiar with the new environment and its working, as well as taking on the necessary responsibility for my tasks in the cellar, a challenge which was met head on. February has been a very busy month. At the winery our attention has been pulled in multiple directions as we anticipate harvest. It’s been a race for time between finishing bottling runs and barrel work on previous vintages, consolidating orders for export and spending hours in the vineyards sampling. I am fortunate in that I work with a small group of people in the cellar and as such have the privilege of being involved in a variety of jobs. To some, these are everyday tasks in any cellar, but I have learnt after a little insight that they take a large amount of planning and logistics to manage. February also marked the beginning of the much anticipated 2013 harvest. We started our harvest with Chardonnay and Merlot. I was curious to observe the new and different techniques employed in the cellar and the effect of such actions on the product. A lot of the regime at Le Riche was unfamiliar to me, in terms of how they worked with their fruit. I was introduced to methods such as whole bunch pressing, open top concrete fermenters and manual punch downs, whilst witnessing first-hand the reason or perceived benefits of their use. This served as great insight into their approach to making wine and I started to understand the philosophy followed on the farm. Something I believe to be imperative to successful winemaking.

Ricardo Cloete – Greetings from Kanonkop

It is a great privilege and pleasure to be a Protégé of the Cape Winemakers Guild and I think it's the best opportunity a junior winemaker can get to ensure the best experience in his country, career and the wine industry. It is very informative and beneficial for me to have Abrie Beeslaar, winemaker at Kanonkop, as my mentor. From day one I got respect for Abrie, for the person he is and his way of thinking. Abrie is very professional and focused, and serious when it comes to his work. Since I arrived at Kanonkop, I have started with the workers on the farm, who were busy with young vine development, in December 2012. It was interesting and fun to do put into practice the theoretical background that I have already acquired. We've done all treatments on the young vine, to get a good and balanced vine. It is also good and nice to work with the workers on the farm, so that I can see and understand how people think differently and how their attitudes towards their work differ, so that I can understand how to manage a team. I have only been at Kanonkop for about two months and I have already learned so much from Abrie in different aspects of winemaking. I relish being responsible for certain tasks and to be trusted to practice and perform. I look forward to the rest of the year here and already know that it will have a great positive influence on my career and future. I also look forward to the rest of the 3 years program, in which I will grow and gain a lot of experience. Since I feel that I have already learned a lot in two months, the 3 years program will definitely play a big part in my success.

Thorton Pillay – Greetings from Ernie Els Wines

From December until now, I have gained an immense amount of knowledge and have just been building onto the strong foundation that I have gained last year. The working month of February started off with much hype and excitement for me as the Stellenbosch wine festival was taking place, and I was able to partake in this event. This was a great opportunity for me as I felt a bit more confident within myself, because I was able to meet people from all over the world and explain to them my story as to how I came about into the wine industry. After having to be exposed to the other work at the winery, the time had come to start preparing for the harvest form 2013. We had to bring out the dusty machinery from the storage and have them cleaned properly and have it set and ready for when the grapes have arrived to the cellar. When the grapes had arrived we were shown exactly how the system works at Ernie Els Wines and how the grapes are to be processed. The next task after the grapes were processed was to rehydrate the yeast. I learnt that the yeast needs to have a larger surface contact with the juice to become alive at the end, as this plays a very important role in terms of the quality of wine that is to be produced and in order to ensure a successful fermentation taking place. Currently we received two lots of Merlot and I look forward to the rest of the harvest that is still to come in the next month. I personally feel that I am gaining an immense amount of knowledge working at Ernie Els Wines aside Louis Strydom. I had a general basic understanding of how a cellar is meant to be managed, and after starting at the winery, I can say that I am fine tuning my talent and putting it into real practice each day.

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 All of us at Cape Winemakers Guild wish Magda Voster and the protégés all the best with the rest of the harvest season. Keep up the good work!