In light of Nelson Mandela’s passing and the publication of my article on his vinous legacy, I decided to offer South African winemakers a channel through which to share their stories. I interviewed a handful of winemakers and winery owners regarding their thoughts on Mandela’s influence on the industry and the mood of the country as it mourns this week. We also dig into the challenges of their respective regions, the foods they like, and everyone’s favorite, winery dogs.
A brief background on De Toren Private Cellar:
Emil and Sonette den Dulk left the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg in 1991 to seek the beauty and serenity of the Cape winelands. They stumbled upon what Emil refers to as “a little piece of heaven” in the Polkadraai Hills, with the magnificent Stellenbosch Mountains as backdrop. It was here that they established De Toren Private Cellar. With the help of specialists from the University of Stellenbosch, Emil set out to carve a niche for his boutique estate by creating South Africa’s first five-varietal Bordeaux blend, the now legendary Fusion V. The current winemaker is Albie Koch.
Albie, where were you born and where do you live now?
I was born in Vryburg (Kalahari), South Africa, and I now live at De Toren in Stellenbosch.
How did you get into the wine business?
Out of curiosity. How does one grow grapes and make something so enjoyable!
We all witnessed around the world, the passing of Nelson Mandela this week. Do you feel he made a contribution, either directly or indirectly, to the wine industry? What is the mood around the country right now?
Nelson Mandela lead us out of the apartheid era and into the opening of international markets. This lead to an explosion of our wines being exported to all over the world. Yes, he most definitely contributed to the wine industry. Currently the country is in deep mourning and in a somber state. The world needs more leaders like Nelson Mandela.
What are the challenges of making wine in your region?
Stellenbosch is blessed with all aspects: weather, diversity, and sunshine! Our biggest challenge each season is also the most appreciated thing in a season–wind. Wind ( southerly wind here has a nickname: The Cape Doctor) at the wrong time (flower stage) can have detrimental effect on your crop, but then wind during the season (southern winds are cool) is the air-conditioning in our vineyards, which gives us the cool climate.
Have South Africans’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years?
South Africans are becoming true wine consumers and are now opting to explore the higher-end of wines, not just the bottom.
Do you think South African wines have any particular reputation in the States that you think is inaccurate?
In the past, the overseas markets were flooded with low-quality wine from South Africa, thus S.A. was not recognized as a high-end producer. If you look at the ratings and weigh them against some French and California bottles, however, one will see that we are a wine producing country that can punch in the same weight class as these highly-rated wines. We should be taken seriously!
Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected?
I do not know about understood or respected , but underestimated is definitely Malbec. The Malbec we can grow in South Africa is awesome! Just ask the few that have tasted our Malbec.
What do you drink when relaxing at home?
I tend to drink more of our fellow winemakers wines from South Africa, and on the odd occasion, will have French or US wines. My every day drinking wine: Chenin Blanc from South Africa. We have some wonderful examples of stunning stuff.
What types of food do you enjoy?
Because our weather is so great we tend to prepare our food outside on a braai (barbeque), whether it is steak or fish. Anyone that has had a braai with a glass of wine, overlooking False Bay on a clear summer evening, will tell you there are probably very few things that can beat that feeling.
If you could be traveling right now, where would you be?
Kalahari/Botswana. The tranquility of the bush can be found nowhere else. Believe me, nowhere else.