Out to Lunch with Peter De Wet of De Wetshof
There are very few events on the wine calendar that grab one’s attention so more than the ‘Celebration of Chardonnay’. When I received an invitation, I promptly cleared my diary for the day and made the trip through the Huguenot Tunnel towards the picturesque Robertson Wine Valley.
Hosted by the De Wet family every two years since 2006, the reason for the event’s existence has not changed: to pay homage to one of the world’s greatest white wines. Although originally showcasing only South African Chardonnays, the De Wets have (since 2010) included wines from France, the U.S.A and Australia – enabling our local winemakers to benchmark their wines against the best in the world.
With the appetite suitably piqued by an exceptional line up of wines, it was time to sit down with Peter De Wet and enjoy a sumptuous luncheon prepared by some of the most distinguished chefs in the country.
Having officially taken over the responsibility of winemaking from his father Danie De Wet, Peter was quick to remind me that De Wetshof is very much a team effort between himself as winemaker and his brother Johann active in the vineyards and driving the role of marketing, ably assisted by trusted family friend Bennie Stipp. All this happening under the watchful eyes of Danie and Lesca De Wet, guiding this longstanding family farm which has been in the De Wet family since the late 1600’s.
Peter’ s laid back hospitable nature, together with our common love for IWC watches and great Chardonnay, made for a thoroughly enjoyable few hours enjoying fine wines and delicious food in the company of the very generous De Wets.
Peter De Wet in the hot seat
When did you decide to become a winemaker?
My family has been making wine since the end of the 1600’s. Since I was young, it’s something I’ve always liked to do, and so at around 15 years of age, I decided that doing something you like doing, sounds like a good career.
When and where did you qualify as a winemaker?
I studied in Geisenheim, Germany.
What do you enjoy most about winemaking and why?
Making something that’s always changing and is impossible to replicate sounds like fun.
Previous winemaking experience?
Worked in Dr Deinhard (Pfalz), Girolate (Bordeaux), Bertagna (Vougeot), Maillart (Champagne), and a season in Napa, Senoma and Oregon spending time at more than 50 wineries’. I also worked at Graham Beck and Chamonix.
Any interesting anecdotes or lessons learned during your winemaking career?
Well, I made wine at school in Grade 10. I discovered that this is frowned upon. Adding gelatin to a 60,000 litre tank right after fermentation will make it explode, but on the bright side you should still have 50,000 litres left. And finally, never take a 10 minute phone call and stand outside while pumping €100/litre wine. You might accidentally pump 4000 litres down the drain.
Best highlight in your career?
I’m only 32 so hopefully it’s still to come.
Your winemaking philosophy?
Keep the purity of the fruit. Let the wine express what nature has given it.
What do you attribute De Wetshof’s success to?
We are lucky to get some of the best quality grapes any winemaker could wish for. This makes my job very easy.
What makes De Wetshof’s terroir special?
Clay-rich soils with lime stone and chalk. Cold nights and afternoon winds that cool off the heat from the warm summer days.
How do you feel about the SA wine industry?
Having worked in over 50 wine cellars around the world, I believe that South Africa makes world-class wines. As an industry, we just need to value our wines more internationally.
Your favourite white and red wines – to make and why?
Bubbly – It’s a very different process to making wine, a fun hobby
Chardonnay – The biggest challenge every year with high pressure.
Merlot – Very hard to get the grapes right, actually one of the hardest wines to make but with great rewards.
Your favourite pastimes/hobbies?
Snow skiing, water skiing and golf
Your goals and aspirations?
If I can continue making great wine for another 30 years, that would be perfect.