SA Wine Legend: Erika Obermeyer

“If it excites you and scares you at the same time, it probably means you should do it,” says a visibly emotional Erika Obermeyer to the gathered crowd at the Cape Winemaker’s Guild VIP auction tasting. “Which is why, after many years of making the still wines at Graham Beck, I took the leap of faith; and set out to produce my own range of wines. A journey that required the spirit of a lion.”

Winemaker now of her eponymous label, Silver Linings 2021 is her debut release for Cape Winemakers’ Guild Auction, 2023 marking the esteemed showcase’s 39th anniversary. Going under the hammer are 40 wines produced exclusively for the Auction in small lots.

“With this wine I wanted to show the diversity of South Africa’s winelands,” Obermeyer elucidates.

Silver Linings is a syrah-led blend seasoned with grenache, cinsault and cabernet sauvignon. Obermeyer’s aim was to create a wine which is ‘alluringly perfumed, intense, and concentrated, multi-layered and multi- dimensional’.

“Magic happens when the four varieties are blended,” she says as the cognoscenti of the South African wine industry swirl the crimson liquid in their glasses. “Syrah adds the fresh red berry fruit, spices and structure, grenache lends fresh fruit perfume, elegance, and structure, cinsault contributes brighter fruit, acidity and freshness, while the cabernet adds complexity, structure and length.

“It’s a privilege to tell the story of these special vineyards through my wine. This wine is a celebration of not only the magical 2021 vintage, but also the joy and inspiration I find from nature. To show you that it doesn’t matter how hard the journey is sometimes, there’s always a hope of sunshine.”

And despite her sunny optimism Obermeyer has endured challenges aplenty. Since childhood she has suffered from a progressive eye disease called Keratoconus, which entails eventually needing a cornea transplant as the condition inexorably deteriorates one’s vision.

“A few months before starting my own brand,” she says to the crowd. “I had only 10 per cent vision in my left eye and 30 per cent vision in my right while wearing contact lenses, and almost none without them. My eyes rejected the lenses making it crucial to have the corneal transplants as soon as possible. Little did I know then that this would be a five-year journey.”

The room is silent, absolutely rapt to her story and the wine in front of them. “Four days before the harvest of 2021 I walked into Kingsbury's eye hospital for the last time… days afterwards I experienced full vision for the first time. This coincided with finally moving into my own cellar in Stellenbosch after five years of renting crush facilities.

“Then the cherry on top of 2021…  I was invited to join the Guild.” Making this compelling producer the seventh woman to be inducted in the CWG.

Before she got to this hallowed stage, Obermeyer’s origins are grounded in nature. She grew up on her family’s sheep farm near Sutherland in the Karoo. “I spent hours exploring the veld with my canine companion. We enjoyed the simple pleasures of farm life. Nature has always been in my blood.”

“It was a very humble lifestyle, without electricity and TV until I was almost 13-years-old. My parents instilled in me perseverance: to believe in myself and that giving up is no option, and to always know my self worth.”

When it was time to leave the veld behind she says her passion for nature combined with an affinity for maths and science her goal was to study medicine. And so Obermeyer enrolled for a Bachelor of Science degree at Stellenbosch University. “It was here that the wine bug bit,” she says with a laugh. “I had a lightbulb moment while doing a wine tour, I saw a career where I could combine my passion for science with that of nature.”

After graduating from Stellenbosch University with a BSc and BSc Honours in wine biotechnology in 1998, Erika joined Kleine Zalze in Stellenbosch in 1999. 

She further augmented her knowledge with harvests in Sancerre, Saint-Émilion and the Languedoc.

In 2005 she became winemaker at Graham Beck Wines. In her 12 years there as the winemaker she raked in the accolades. “My very first big win, only months after I joined Graham Beck I won the Trophy for the national champion Sauvignon Blanc at the National Young Wine Show 2005.” Graham Beck went on to win this a total of three times in four years. Among other highlights she was also named Winner of Landbouweekblad Women Winemaker of the Year 2008, SA’s Most Influential Women in Business & Government Award, and she was a finalist in Agriculture Sector in 2012.

She also earned Graham Beck their first ever five-star in the Platter’s Wine Guide, edition  2011, for both the Ad Honorem 2007 and the Pheasants’ Run 2010.

When Graham Beck decided to focus solely on Cap Classique, this still wine producer knew, however sadly, that it was time to move on.  “The many years meant an absolute wealth of experience and relationships with both grape growers and fellow winemakers. Drawing on this I took a leap of faith and started my own label in 2016.”

The first release of her own-label wines received 5-stars from Platter’s, earning her the coveted title of Platter’s Newcomer Winery of the Year 2019.

These days she calls Stellenbosch her home. She still enjoys walks in nature with her dogs. “I love spending time in nature and really enjoy hiking. There is no better therapy for life’s frenetic pace than the outdoors, fresh air, and amazing views.”

She styles herself as a ‘homebody’ who loves experimenting in the kitchen and entertaining. “I also love to travel. It is the only thing you spend money on which makes you richer.”

What’s next for Erika Obermeyer Wines? “I will always stay true to the brand ethos of showcasing the diversity of our Cape winelands through my wines, but Stellenbosch cabernet will become a much bigger focus for me.

“I absolutely love working with cabernet. It truly is the King of Grapes. I enjoy the precision you have to apply throughout the process from vineyard to bottle. It’s a grape that needs to be treated with respect. It has gravitas, structure, complexity. The magic of capturing the perfume of the complex aromatics of the grape, not overworking it, to manage the tannins perfectly so they add a velvety finish to the wine, it all is a balance and a true art.”

- Blog by Malu Lambert