WOSA NEWS
News and blogs from Wines of South Africa

Blogs

Press Releases

 


SA Wine Legends: Danie Steytler 

The sands of the Bottelary Hills run through Danie Steytler’s veins. The soils of this Stellenbosch region have shaped him as if out of clay and made him into the person and celebrated winemaker he is today. The Steytler family have farmed Kaapzicht Estate for over 70 years, and Danie is the third generation with 40 vintages of winemaking behind him.

It’s been some career. The walls of the tasting room are papered with awards. Danie clad in a green shirt, looks fit and healthy as he relaxes over a glass of Steytler Pinotage. From the get-go his marketing strategy has been simple, enter the awards—and then win them. He smiles at this: “The awards put us on the map.”

Notably among the accolades, the Cape Blend Kaapzicht Steytler Vision 2001 received the Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Trophy for Best Red Blend in the World in 2004 by the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. Kaapzicht also clinched the Decanter Trophy for Best South African Blend (both for his Cape Blend “Steytler Vision”).  In 2009 his flagship Pinotage won the Decanter Regional Trophy for South Africa’s Best Single Red Varietal and went on to win the Decanter International Trophy for Best Single Red Varietal in the world.

Not bad for a farm boy of humble beginnings. “This is the oldest building on the farm,” says Danie gesturing around the tasting room. “It used to be the horse stables.” His grandfather bought the farm in 1946 and was then mixed farming. “We didn’t have much money, but slowly my dad started replanting the tobacco with grapes.”

Back in those days all the kids worked, Danie tells me, from harvesting, pruning, levelling ground, you name it. “We used to do this whole farm. During harvest we’d sometimes work through the night, and would go to school with black hands from the grapes. Often we’d fall asleep at our desks, but the teachers wouldn’t wake us up, they understood.”

Farming was everything. “My dad gave me some land in return for the work I did and I planted vegetables to sell.” There was even a period of two weeks when Danie’s parents went away and left the 14-year-old in charge of the day-to-day running of the farm. His hands have been in Kaapzicht’s soil for so long, he’s become it. “Technically I’ve just retired, but retiring on a farm… the work is never done. Maybe I’ll plan a few more holidays.”

He has after all spent some time away from the farm. After completing his National Service in the parachute battalion he went on to graduate with a National Diploma in Agriculture in Pretoria. It was in 1979 that he returned to the slopes of Kaapzicht officially as winemaker, and in 1984 he registered the farm as Kaapzicht Estate when he bottled his first wine under his own label. “Being an ex paratrooper, you finish what you started! It was important for me to build our own brand; no one can take that away.” 


 

There’s a picture of him bottling this wine hanging in the tasting room, with his toddler son Danie—who is now the fourth generation winemaker having picked up the baton from his dad.

“I’m very proud of my son. When you farm you put your whole life into it.” Danie has two children with his wife, Yngvild. Their daughter Quinne currently resides in the U.K.  There are three grandchildren. And yes, Danie Junior has had a son they’ve called Danie too. “We hope he becomes a winemaker,” says Danie with a gentle smile.

For Danie Snr and Yngvild it was a whirlwind romance. The pair married just nine months after meeting one another. Yngvild grew up in North Germany. As a 22-year-old nursing student she spent 10 months backpacking through Namibia and South Africa, where she met Danie. She was meant to continue her travels on to Australia but ended up swapping the ticket for one back to Germany, where they got married in her hometown, Bremen in 1979. 

So just how does one create a lasting legacy? When it comes to farming, Danie says: “you have to stay in your vineyard cycle and renew every 25 years. When we first started renewing the vineyards in 1982, it was tough, production went down but I saw the bigger picture.” This is somewhat controversial advice given the attention on older vineyard sites, but Danie days they too preserve their older sites—the ones making good wines. Such as the 1947 Chenin Blanc, which was recently rated as Decanter’s most exciting wine of 2017. 

Creating a lifelong legacy doesn’t happen in a vacuum. “If it wasn’t for my friends, [the likes of Herman Kirschbaum, Neil Ellis, Spatz Sperling and Etienne le Riche], I wouldn’t be where I am today. These are the guys that really helped and supported me. Your neighbours are not your competitors, there’s enough place under the sun.” 

He continues: “You’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to wake up and go do it, don’t rely on other people to make your wines, the more you put into your brand eventually it snowballs on you.”

These days he can ease his foot off the throttle a little. He’s busy planning his 27th trip up the Orange River. After a three-year battle with cancer, he’s been given the all clear by his doctor and has recently stopped chemo. “Going through something like that makes you appreciate every day, and to realise what a blessing it is to be able to work, to farm.”

Building a legacy? “It takes a life.”

-Malu Lambert