Lunch with Johann Laubser of Delaire Graff Estate
The wine industry is often described as a lifestyle industry. Certainly not a sure bet or easy way to make millions, but it does have its perks. For me, the greatest of these are the pleasures of drinking great wines with delicious food, and in the case of these Winemaker lunches, in the company of some extraordinary high-achieving characters.
Case in point: the late spring day I spent with one of the leading wine industry movers and shakers, and friend of many years, Johann Laubser, who is the CEO of Delaire Graff Estate.
Ten years ago, international diamond merchant Laurence Graaf acquired this land and vowed to transform it into South Africa’s most desirable art, hospitality and wine destination. Today, with two outstanding restaurants, a state-of-the-art winery, exclusive lodges, a destination spa and two luxury boutiques, the transformation of this piece of paradise into one of the world’s leading wine destinations, is now complete. While Johann has a natural tendency to shrug off any mention of credit, he has been a major force behind this renaissance.
For nearly five years, Johann has been at the helm, quietly but surely leading Delaire Graff to a level unparalleled in the Winelands. Johann comes from a negoçiant background, having entered the wine business as an entrepreneur in 1991. That business became Longridge Wines and ultimately evolved into Winecorp, of which he was CEO. Having worked at every level in this industry, Johann couldn’t have been better suited to run Delaire Graff. A distinctive career highlight is his current role as CEO, which he modestly states has been a privilege.
We ate lunch on the terrace of Delaire Graff Restaurant, where executive chef Christiaan Campbell cooks wonderful bistro chic food, like the colourful farmer angus chicken with crawfish that I enjoyed, brightly complemented with garden peas, red peppers, sweet corn and tapioca pearls. With it, we shared a crisp Delaire Rose 2012 (one of this month’s Premium selections), as well as easy talk about interesting developments and people in our industry.
Having both been in this business for over two decades, we always have plenty to discuss, but it is Johann’s strength of character, humility and decency that have been the basis of our friendship throughout. I look forward to seeing this relationship further flourish over the next 20 years!
JOHANN IN A NUTSHELL
What do you enjoy the most about the wine business?
I have a passion for my product and it never ceases to intrigue me, with so many varietals, blends, regions, quality levels……… the list goes on and on.
Your winemaking philosophy?
At Delaire Graff, we strive to produce wines that can best be described as faultless well-made expressions of the varietal or blend type.
What makes Delaire’s terroir special?
Elevation and deep red fertile soils.
How do you feel about the SA wine industry’s present standing and future on the international market?
I believe the SA wine industry is entering an exciting new phase which will be driven by a new generation of talented, passionate and creative winemakers, who will move us into an era of superbly crafted wines.
Your favourite white and red wines to drink?
My favourite white is Chardonnay and red is Cabernet Sauvignon. Outside of SA wines, my favourite regions are France, Italy and Spain.
Your favourite pastimes/hobbies?
I enjoy playing golf and sessions in the gym. I watch a lot of sport and relax by reading newspapers, magazines and the occasional novel.
Your goals and aspirations?
I enjoy my role at Delaire Graff so my focus will remain here. We have plans to increase production which will bring new global sales challenges, and the hospitality and gastronomy side of the business is ever challenging and exciting.