It’s August, and officially Women’s Month we’re told, but we’d raise a glass to women winemakers any day of the year. If you’re not sure what to pour in said glass, take a sip of inspiration from these two talents.
Arlene Mains never planned on becoming a winemaker.
Raised in the Cape Town suburb of Blackheath, on the outskirts of the Stellenbosch wine lands, her studies at Stellenbosch University began in molecular biology. But she soon fell under the spell of viticulture and oenology — “I realised I wasn’t geared to working alone in a lab all day” — and switched courses. She followed up her undergraduate studies with a masters in wine biotechnology, focused on natural fermentations, before diving headlong into the industry.
She quickly added a tally of the Cape’s most respected estates to her CV, working in the cellars of Rupert & Rothschild, Kleine Zalze and Kaapzicht, before expanding her horizons abroad.
Those travels took her first to California, and the famed Napa Valley cellar of Opus One, founded by Baron Philippe de Rothschild and renowned vintner Robert Mondavi. From an intern she was promoted to assistant viticulturist, before visa issues saw her hopping the pond to France, working a harvest at the legendary Château Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux. Since returning to SA in 2019 Mains has been assistant winemaker at Bellingham in the Franschhoek Valley, reacquainting herself with South African terroir and crafting the cellar’s compact range of premium wines.
As a young woman of colour making a name for herself in an industry that’s traditionally been male, and white, she sees promising signs of positive transformation.
“From the outside it often seems like things aren’t changing, but they are,” says Mains. “Many within the wine industry are very forward-thinking, progressive people. It’s going to take time to bring more equality into the industry, but I have found the industry to be open-minded.”
“I’ve always had wonderful mentors and teachers along the way. Danie Steytler at Kaapzicht was a great mentor, Michael Silacci, winemaker at Opus One, was an extremely positive influence on my winemaking mindset, and currently Richard Duckitt, head winemaker at Bellingham, has been very encouraging on my winemaking journey.”
Drink this: Bernard Series Old Vine chenin blanc
“I just love the old vine chenin,” says Mains. “You can drink it on its own, or you can have it with a meal, which is a testament to a really great wine.”
Vineyard or ocean: it’s hard to tell which Trizanne Barnard loves more. So perhaps little surprise that this independent winemaker combines her passion for both land and sea, tapping into the coastal vineyards of the Agulhas Plain for much of her acclaimed wine portfolio.
Unlike those tied to a particular cellar or vineyards, Barnard is part of a growing crop of négociant winemakers who, not owning their own patches of earth, are free to pick and choose the vineyard parcels that suit their winemaking vision.
For Barnard that’s largely an expression of coastal terroir, with selected vineyards near the Moravian mission village of Elim providing the fruit for her award-winning range of Trizanne Signature Wines. It’s a region particularly famed for its sauvignon blanc, Sémillon and syrah; offering a cool-climate expression of these popular cultivars.
While she sources Barbera and Syrah from the Swartland, Barnard has also been exploring the vineyard potential of the Sondagskloof, a wine-growing region sandwiched between Elim and Stanford.
The standout from here is surely her Trizanne Signature Sondagskloof Blanc Fumé 2018, which scored five stars in the 2020 Platter’s Guide to South African wine.
“I decided to make the sauvignon blanc like a red wine,” explains Barnard, fermenting the juice on the grape skins, before ageing the wine in oak barrels.
Today Barnard calls the seaside village of Kommetjie home, and with good reason: it’s a walk to the surf breaks of Long Beach, and a few minutes from her cellar space in Noordhoek. Land and sea, combined.
Drink this: Trizanne Signature Sondagskloof Blanc Fumé 2018
“A wonderful sauvignon blanc ... right up there with the most complex examples of the variety in SA,” said Tim Atkin in his authoritative 2019 report on South African wines.