Legendary wine enjoyment
For his Winemaker Selection labels, Wade Bales works closely with some of the best winemakers in South Africa to bottle exclusive wines bearing the name of the respective winemaker. One of these winemakers is Hermann Kirschbaum, Cellarmaster at Buitenverwachting in Constantia. Kirschbaum has been making wine at the historical Constantia property for more than 20 years, and although he is regarded by many as one of the legends of the wine industry – you won’t find his name on any of the Winemaker Selection labels. The reason? Kirschbaum prefers the wine to do the talking, and he opts to humbly avoid the spotlight as a result.
I’ve interviewed numerous trailblazers and innovators over the years – from viticulturists and wine makers to retailers and critics – and the golden thread which defines all of them is modesty. Most often, these legends of the wine industry refused to take credit for the wines they made, instead they would rather praise a mentor, their team, or, in most instances, nature.
My archived notes of these interviews reveal wine producers with a non-negotiable respect for the environment:
World renowned viticulturist Professor Eben Archer, who I interviewed at Neethlingshof and who has since retired, told me that vines are the most beautiful plant God created. Vines, he said, speak to a person: “but it isn’t a language you hear – it is a language you see.”
Delheim’s Spatz Sperling told me that he identifies with trees and that his family believes it is verboten (forbidden) to cut them down. My notes read that he seemed visibly upset on the day of the interview due to trees being felled on the neighbouring property.
Jan Boland Coetzee, owner and winemaker at Vriesenhof in Stellenbosch, philosophised that he merely acted as a guide in the winemaking process. To him a winemaker is a humble servant of nature, with the best wines made by producers who truly care for the environment. Jan Boland will tell you that “wine is the best mirror of its environment and a reflection of the person who looks after it.” If you had to ask him whether we are already drinking wines made from an ill-treated environment, he will tell you that producers have shifted their focus away from the soil: “instead it is about what happens in the cellar (and) about winemaking competitions… (it) has created a fashion idiom when it comes to wine.”
This sentiment was shared by the late Oom Piet du Toit of Alto, who, during my interview with him for the same series, lamented the fact that winemaking today had become about the “pennies”, and not about the love of the journey from vine to bottle anymore.
In an industry cluttered with commercial wines it is really worth it to seek out the offerings which serve as a portal into the world of these legendary winemakers. Recently this ‘portal’ came to me in the form of Hempies du Toit’s Annandale Shiraz 2005. Unlike most commercial offerings this wine was kept in new French oak barrels for eight years, and was only recently released to the market – something profit-driven producers will scoff at. Hempies, however, allows nature, and not money, to dictate the mood of his wines – and this is a great gift to the consumer.
Jeanri-Tine van Zyl worked for Wine magazine as a journalist when it was still in print and is now a communications consultant with her own company called Feed That Bird Communication Consultants. She is also a freelance writer and a qualified wine judge.