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 food and music they prefer, and everyone’s favorite, winery dogs.
Peter de Wet, Winemaker for Excelsior Wine Estate in Robertson, South Africa
Excelsior Chardonnay, Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon, Excelsior Syrah and Excelsior Sauvignon Blanc. All listed at $9.99.
Where were you born and where do you live now?
I was born in the pretty town of Montagu, about 10 miles from my current home on Excelsior.
How did you get into the wine business?
I was born into it. We have been farming and making wine on Excelsior for 150 years –I am the 5th generation. Some of my earliest memories were of sitting in front of my father on the motorbike staring at vines.
The whole world witnessed the passing of Nelson Mandela this week. Do you feel he made a contribution, either directly or indirectly, to the wine industry?
Mandela made a massive contribution. SA was at a precipice in 1992, and civil strife was a very real possibility. We only have to look at the many examples in Africa to see that this creates long, lasting problems. Mandela saw the big picture and lead form the front. He got all races to pull together and in the right direction. Our business has grown exponentially in the following 20 years and SA is a better place. There is still a lot more to do, but at least we know that we can do it. All South Africans should be grateful to this great man.
What is the mood around the country right now?
Strange and not how I expected. There is sadness, but more a reflection of what he stood for and what we can learn from that. There is also a celebratory vibe, we celebrate his life. Take a look at our blog for an interesting story that my cousin Anton told about an interaction he had with Mandela.
What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker?
I find it very rewarding following a vineyard’s path from planting to the production of quality grapes, and finally seeing customers enjoy it! Wine is possibly the most fascinating agricultural product. The most depressing part of my work is unfortunately the weather–having rain during harvest can destroy a whole season’s hard work.
What are the challenges of making wine in your region?
Robertson is well-adapted for wine growing. There aren’t too many challenges; we are blessed with a dry climate, which means we rarely need to spray, and wonderful limestone soils. We are not well known as a wine region which is a challenge, but Roberson is growing its reputation as an area for producing quality wine.
What excites you most about South African wine right now?
South African wine manages more complexity in its wines than most New World regions. We are still new in the sense that the modern phase of the wine industry only really started in the early 1990’s. There is huge potential for growth.
What do you drink when relaxing at home?
Wine! I love crisper, mineral-y styles of Chardonnay, whilst in winter, Cabernets really hit the spot. I also have a soft spot for Rhone-style reds.
What kinds of food do you enjoy eating?
There is nothing better than a South African braai (barbeque). Lighting a fire with real wood (never charcoal) waiting for the coals to be the right temperature, whilst enjoying a glass of wine, and then cooking whatever is available. Recently, I have been braaing quite a bit of game fillets. The trick is to have a hot base of coals, and then just sear the meat for about 3 minutes per side. The meat is incredibly tender and flavoursome. We often post recipes on our blog The Horse’s Mouth.
What music do you listen to?
Anything that gets my two year old son Matthew dancing. Super cute!
Is there a winery dog?
Of course! My dog is a German Shepherd called Nyanga.