Why did you decide to become a winemaker? My father was in wine distribution, so wine was not foreign to me as a child. We were allowed a drop of wine diluted with some water until we were old enough to have a drop of wine with our wine! Having this exposure, I knew I needed to learn more about wine.
So how did your career unfold? I studied in Pretoria of all places, a bit removed from actual winemaking, but after qualifying as a micro-biologist, I had the opportunity to join the legendary Achim von Arnim in 1984 to run Clos Cabriere (Franschhoek). I was under his mentorship for 4 years, producing Pierre Jourdan Cap Classique. I joined Graham Beck in 1990, over 25 years ago now, but I still remember Graham himself strutting in and announcing: ‘My flagship must be a sparkling wine.’
Highlights in your career? Having our Graham Beck Brut used at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994, winning the prestigious Diner’s Club Winemaker of the Year Award in 2004, and having the best sparkling wine in the world, outside Champagne in 2015. These are some of my personal favourites.
What do you enjoy most about winemaking? Having had the opportunity to specialise in Cap Classique from day one of my career, I have developed a motto: ‘In search of the perfect bubble.’ So this is my inspiration and ultimate drive. Winemaking is a life-choice, a lifestyle. You cannot attach hours to the job.
I know terroir is important to you – what makes yours special? At Graham Beck, we have limestone in the soil. Along with this, the continental shelf’s geographical influence in the Robertson region has proven to be one of the best areas to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for quality Cap Classique.
How do you feel about the SA wine industry? I’m very excited about Cap Classique. It really has a sparkling future. Cap Classique is growing with double digits and doubles every 5 years. It’s the most vibrant category in SA.
What’s the secret behind Graham Beck’s success? This year, Graham Beck will concentrate solely on sparkling wine. This refined specialisation in Cap Classique is key. Attention to detail is also really important – from the moment you pick the grape right up until you pour the final product into the consumer’s glass.
Any amusing anecdotes during your winemaking career? Far too many to mention. But my favourite quote is from Winston Churchill, who was asked what his favourite bottle of Champagne was. He replied, ‘It must be a magnum, and make sure your partner does not drink!’
Your goals and aspirations? To be the best Ambassador for Cap Classique locally and internationally – supported by the exceptional quality of Graham Beck MCC. One day, I’d also love to produce my own range of bubbles, both here locally and in Champagne.
Here’s to you, Pieter. In your continued search for the perfect bubble, your legacy of brand loyalty, hard work and world-class sparkling wine only continues to rise. Just like the bubbles you love.