It is 2008 and as Predicted, Moves are Afoot

14 January 2008 - Kim Maxwell  

With harvest about to happen for many Cape cellars, the industry can rest assured that plenty of cellar hops have happened. The end of 2007 in the Western Cape was no different. The Robertson area seems to have no competition in claiming the most pre-harvest moves. When asked about winemaker changes in the area, one McGregor winemaker smiled and agreed that, "there's a lot of that going around".

The three-way merger between Bonnievale, Merwespont and Nordale wine cooperatives to form Bonnievale Wine Cellar Cooperative Ltd in late 2006 brings their harvest capacity to 30,000 tons. Estimates suggest that 28,000 tons will be processed during harvest 2008. Bonnievale's increased capacity and export brands mean a team of five winemakers now oversee production.

Simon Basson left Bonnievale Wine Cellar for Ashton Winery in November 2007, and Eduard Malherbe of Rooiberg is the newest recruit to the Bonnievale team, his focus being on red wines. Jolene Calitz-le Roux also joined the winemaking team in August from Franschhoek Vineyards.

Flip Smit of Klein Karoo Winery moved to Robertson's Le Grand Chasseur Estate, and Andre Scriven left McGregor Winery at the end of December, filling Malherbe's shoes at Rooiberg in January 2008. McGregor Winery is a cooperative with 32 farmer shareholders producing nearly 12,000 tons. The cellar underwent a major staff shake-up during 2007. New appointments introduced by headhunters include the December arrival of winemaker Hugo Conradie, and the arrival a few months before that of psychologist Adam Hobson as general manager. He boasts lengthy wine industry experience.

Previously Conradie gained experience producing FirstCape, one of South Africa's most successful export brands, at De Wet Co-Op in Worcester. It would be logical to assume that McGregor Winery aims to follow suit by strengthening their export positioning.

Over in Franschhoek, Thinus Kruger has joined Boschendal as red winemaker. Thinus replaces James Farquharson, who left South Africa to pursue winemaking opportunities in Kenya. Let's hope the tricky political situation doesn't affect his ambitions. Thinus has eight harvests behind him, including the role of head winemaker for Fleur du Cap for three years. He made the Brampton wine range at Rustenberg most recently.

Adi Badenhorst's departure as Rustenberg's winemaker in October 2007 had tongues wagging about his potential replacement. Assistant Randolph Christians is stepping in, with 12 years of experience at Rustenberg to fall back on. According to Christians, Simon Barlow will be more involved in decisions, and Australian Kym Milne MW of International Wine Services swoops into the cellar as flying winemaker towards the end of January. "We'll look at our harvest requirements, and also look at previous vintages in terms of blends etcetera. The idea is to be consistent in terms of wines, to be Rustenberg-terroir driven, year after year. It's not meant to be winemaker-driven," he says.

Adi Badenhorst has left to pursue a solo career, making family wine labels and consulting to a few private clients. He mentioned future involvement in an exciting project too, but cannot provide details at this stage. "I'm still making wine. Contrary to popular belief I'm not breeding parrots and cooking!" he jokes. Adi's purchase of a Perdeberg farm with a cousin will result in his own 25 to 30 ton wine label - a lot of it Perdeberg grapes - in rented cellar space. He is also assisting his dad Andre Badenhorst on his wine labels.

The Perdeberg-dominated wine will be back to basics, using traditional winemaking equipment and old cement kuipe. "We'll make wines with immense character. We're using what we can afford. We're going to make the best wines we can. And have great experiences. I want to make something, involving interaction from my family. And I plan to sleep late in the morning!"

Other recent Stellenbosch moves include Gunter Schultz moving from Delaire to Kleinood on September 15, while Chris Kelly left Hidden Valley for Delaire in October. Warwick's Louis Nel left Warwick at the end of November to oversee Hidden Valley's 2008 harvest. "These are new vineyards so it's a bit of a shame that Chris left, as they're getting to where they should be. It'll be the first year that both these grapes and those at the Land's End property will all be vinified in one winery in Stellenbosch," says Louis. "Here I'm dealing with young, unvirused vineyards as opposed to established vineyards at Warwick. We're also buying in from all over the place. I'm so upbeat, I'm vibrating. I can't wait for harvest!"

At Warwick, Jozua Joubert joined the cellar team in mid-December, after work experience in a number of international cellars, and most recently overseeing the high-end wine portfolio at Ashton Winery. American winemaker Matthew Wengel has also been recruited from mid-January, bringing American experience to the mix. He previously worked with Zelma Long and will see out Warwick's harvest on a contract.

Also in Stellenbosch, Winemaker and viticulturist IP Smit has left Clos Malverne to pursue other business interests. Charl Coetzee, who worked with Danie Steytler at Kaapzicht, has replaced him.

2008 will see the first vintage in the D'Aria cellar (home to Poplars restaurant and conference venue) and Rudi von Waltsleben will oversee the job. D'Aria has made wine elsewhere previously but it's a big rush to complete the cellar in time. In nearby Darling, 26-year-old Stellenbosch University graduate Welma Myburgh has joined Darling Cellars, bringing local experience from Koelenhof, and overseas harvest slogging in Australia, Germany and California to the mix.

In Paarl, Backsberg says goodbye to winemaker Alicia Rechner in April 2008. Her Australian mechanical engineer husband has put cellar maintenance work on hold and played house husband to their two children in recent years. They're moving to neutral territory in Nelson, New Zealand, to make their own wine and consult for other cellars. "Michael Back gave me a degorging machine for Christmas, which is going to be used to make my own wine," says Alicia excitedly. Guilaume Nell, originally a winemaker and viticulturist at the Winery of Good Hope, started in January at Backsberg. 

In general harvest dates appear to be later than normal for 2008. Weltevrede Winery near Bonnievale already started picking Pinot Noir for bubbly on Thursday January 10th.