Since 1994, the South African wine industry has undergone a quiet revolution. Nelson Mandela recently released, South Africa was open for business and open to new ideas. The world descended upon our beautiful winelands only to find a closed and insular industry, shackled by the impediments of apartheid. But a new wave of young winemakers was emerging, free to travel the world, welcomed by international peers and exposed to the latest trends and technologies.
Now just over 20 years later, a new generation of winemakers are making their presence felt, taking the lessons learned, benefiting from the massive investment in vineyards and technology and riding a new-found wave of confidence garnered from international attention and respect.
Just recently, leading international critic and Master of Wine, Tim Atkin, had this to say about Mzansi: “South Africa is the most exciting wine producing country in the world.”
Quite the compliment.
As South Africa’s oldest wine-making region, the Constantia Valley may be old, but it’s producing a new breed of winemakers as passionate as they are promising.
Located just 20 kilometres from Cape Town city centre, the valley offers a unique blend of centuries-old established wine homesteads and new stylish boutique wineries in a setting of unsurpassed beauty and heritage.
Beautiful vistas aside, it’s the winemakers that are the real ones to watch. In this historic valley, they’re forging an innovative path ahead…
Here’s my line-up of the rising stars from the Constantia Valley:
Matthew Day of Klein Constantia:
Having just been voted “Best Young Winemaker of the Year” in the Tim Atkin SA Report, Matthew is inspired by his grandfather who taught him much of what he knows about farming. Having been exposed to wine from a young age by his wine enthusiast parents, the decision to study winemaking at Stellenbosch was an easy one for Matthew.
Since graduating, he’s been fortunate enough to have worked all over the world, starting with an internship at Meerlust in 2007 before moving on to work harvests in the Barossa, Napa Valley, as well as St Emilion and Sancerre in France. On return to South Africa, Matthew was taken on board as a cellar hand at Klein Constantia. Having made a barrel of his own Shiraz with Chris Williams at Meerlust, he walked into the office of Adam Mason, the incumbent winemaker at Klein Constantia at the time and boldly stated, “If you like my wine then you need to hire me, failing which, you don’t”.
The rest is history as they say, and soon thereafter in 2009, he was officially appointed as Assistant Winemaker. In 2012, he took over the reigns as winemaker and hasn’t looked back since. “I believe in keeping it simple and not overcomplicating things… let the wine express itself with as little intervention as possible.” Humble words from the winemaker behind one of Wine Spectator’s Top Ten Wines of the World.
Justin van Wyk of Constantia Glen:
A cum laude graduate in Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch University, he credits the highly regarded proprietor and Bordeaux winemaker Dominique Hebrard, with whom he spent time in the cellar, as one of his mentors.
“Chateaux Trianon and Bellefont-Belcier gave me wonderful insight into the art of winemaking and particularly the importance of the vineyards and vineyard practices. I treasure the value of the vine and its fruit and enjoy seeing positive results in the final wine when extra effort is put into the viticultural practices,” says Justin, who also spent time during his formative years in winemaking at PlumpJack and Cade Wineries in the Napa Valley, California.
Hailing from the Karoo, this hard-working, hands-on winemaker loves seeing positive results and reaping the rewards of a successful harvest. His winemaking philosophy is to keep things simple and allow the grapes to do the work.
Van Wyk attributes much of his success to the learning and support provided by his industry peers. “We are a new group of young winemakers in the Valley, and we all communicate what we are doing. If I run out of yeast, I can drive to a mate at a nearby estate and borrow some of his. We recognise and understand the value of supporting one another, and this definitely works to our advantage,” Van Wyk remarks.
Jacques du Plessis of Constantia Uitsig
Having graduated in Oenology and Viticulture at Stellenbosch University, Jacques’ decision to embark on a career making wine was a bit of a gamble, since he claims he was not really sure what it entailed besides, “Some science, some farming and depending on the brand, some creativity.” With his career having included work in the Swartland and in the Breedekloof, Jacques worked for and with people that were very vineyard focused. This has had a huge effect on the way he approaches winemaking today. “I prioritize working the vineyards, and seeing this through to respectful winemaking.”
It was the history and reputation of Constantia that convinced him to make the big move here in 2015. “Heritage and regional identity is something I respect and both of these are important in Constantia. Uitsig has a long history of great wines, and I’m thrilled to be part of what is to come.”
Respect for their roots, an honest humility toward their craft, alongside a bright vision for a better day. These are the common threads uniting these rising stars’ philosophies. It’s a potent blend of attributes. One that bodes well for the future of South African wine.