Can I let you in on a little secret? It’s not primarily the wine that’s kept me passionate about the wine industry these past 25 years … it’s the people.
More specifically, it’s the winemakers. Although they come in all shapes and sizes (as diverse as the styles of wines they create), most of the people in the vineyards and behind the barrels are down to earth, whole hearted and always ready to share, and celebrate, the fruits of their labour with others. Forget about terroir and balanced tannins, it’s the rich and rewarding relationships I’ve formed over the decades that have left the finest finish.
Lukas Wentzel, winemaker at Groote Post, is no exception.
Currently completing his 19th vintage at Groote Post, Wentzel’s winemaking philosophy has always been about balance … and those who know him, know this is a value he holds dear in every aspect of his life. As much a family man as a wine man, Lukas has been married to Tersia for many years and they have two sons.
Sitting opposite him at Groote Post’s charming restaurant, Hilda’s Kitchen, my focus is quickly drawn to another of his offspring - Groote Post’s flagship sauvignon blanc, named Seasalter.
A beautifully composed wine, it pays homage to its origins in all the right ways.
With its grapes having hung on vines that grow a mere 7km from the icy Atlantic, crashing waves, broken shells and salty sea mist are all right there in the bottle and on the nose.
Enjoyed alongside the smoked salmon starter, the wine perfectly balanced the plate, with its subtle wood and semillon components adding just the right amount of complexity and mouthfeel to balance the smoky accents in the dish.
My lamb shank main was also exquisite – but by no means outdone by Groote Post’s merlot and shiraz. Both portrayed a stunning sense of place that’s in no small part due to the skill of the winemaker in front of me.
By no means a one man band, Wentzel is quick to pay tribute to the Pentz family who have stewarded this farm for over 100 years. Ever the team player, he’s equally excited about talking about the Darling wine region which he’s part of - one that’s set to be a rising star on the Cape wine map. Boasting a rustic, country-like feel unique to the West Coast, it’s a region that’s refreshingly different to the more traditional wine regions.
Wentzel epitomises everything that is good about wine in South Africa. Big heart, warm hospitality and hands that aren’t afraid to get dirty
Heading back after lunch, I felt freshly grateful for the men and women who, like Wentzel, epitomise everything that is good about wine in South Africa. Big hearts, warm hospitality and hands that aren’t afraid to get dirty.
What three books have had the greatest influenced on your life? I love reading historical books or something that is based on historical facts, like the books of Bernard Cornwall. My latest book that I got as a gift is Churchill & Smuts by Richard Steyn. The book that has had the biggest influence in my life is the Bible.
What purchase of R1 000 or less has most positively impacted your life in the past six months (or in recent memory)? I bought a pair of running shoes for under a R1 000 on promotion. After my knee operation, it was nice to be running again. And, with my two boys, I’m last in the queue for new takkies!
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? I started my studies very late in my life because of not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. That “apparent failure” got me to where I am today.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? Recently, I think it would be the new braai room that we built. Just a lovely place to spend time with family and friends, enjoying a nice glass of wine.
What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love? I like Will Ferrell’s jokes.
In the past five years, what new belief, behaviour or habit has most improved your life? To appreciate life. My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and it just gives you perspective of what your life is worth.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? Work hard, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and try to be different.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? I will exercise. If you’re out cycling or running, it gives you time to think about your situation. I’ve found that exercising on my own assists me to break the chain of stress and worry.