What is the best thing about producing wine?
Each person has their own reasons for pursuing & this stale question gets answers down the lines of "It's my passion! / I'm part of a winemaking family legacy & I have young children / As a toddler I munched on some Nero d'Avola & it changed the trajectory of my life "
I'm not really good with numbers, like wearing sandals, the great outdoors & working long hours for three months of the year at minimal wage! My accountant advised I may or may not have a tax issue . I really enjoy crafting wines, sending it to customers & continually have to hound purveyors for payments, get involved with IP lawyers & liquidators, which has resulted in peptic ulcers!"
All of these may or may not be our reasons, however for us it's in part due to the fact that we both have a heritage of agrarian pursuits at the tip of South Africa & we have a healthy wanderlust for scouring the corners of the diverse winelands of the Cape, its truly ancient soils in search of the best farmers who grow the right grapes, in the right place to allow us to craft wines from - the French may say "terroir", we like to call it "terroir by truck" & keeping farmers happy. So in an ego-less manner we want to share the landscape of the Cape in a glass of wine for folks from Khayalitsha to Earl's Court.
You enjoy experimental wines, what do you think makes a great wine?
As a species, we've been experimenting since the dawn of time & finding ways to get intoxicated, just look at the elephants who discovered the great results of over-ripe Amarula fruit.
The old adage is "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!" & so to with wine, in our humblest of opinions. There are incredible vinho de mesa (table wines) and then incredible First Growths, the spectrum and discovery in the world of wine is just so diverse, there's literally something for everyone. So it all depends on the situation, your mood & the wine in your glass.
We have been extremely fortunate in our journey in wine, so for Margaux it may be tasting very old Ports with Charles & Peter Symington or tasting with Ramos Pinto's winemaker at her tasting table in the lodge; while for me it's drinking a white skin-contact wine from Bío-Bío in Chile made in the garage by my best friend & his wife's 90 year old grandfather who planted the vines with his dad at the age of 12.
The best wine is Port - be it Porto or Cape-fortified!
Do you have any tips for a budding winemaker?
Get another degree before going into wine - preferably one in law or commerce - or win the Lottery! If you want to follow a path in wine, it's best to taste as much & explore as much as possible, as the world of wine is ever expanding & in the decades to follow it'll be an even more dynamic space with the external factors affecting the industry and humanity in general. I'd say a fundamental skill of recognising great wines from the hum-drum is essential & a willingness to explore both the Old World and beyond.
Where is your favourite wine region? And why?
Well, we're really fortunate to work in the dynamic South African landscape, which has a history of crafting wines for over 360 odd years with an expanding palate of landscapes, terroirs and vines to work with
We source wines from pretty much the entire Cape wineland so have an exposure to the Cape very few have. Within the Cape, it's really difficult to chose just one area, though the wild dry farmed Swartland holds a special place, as does the ultra cool climate Elgin region & then we're scouting the wilds of Montagu's Koo and Keisie valleys with its stark beauty and forgotten vines.
Internationally, it'd be Portugal (sheer diversity, beauty and incredible untapped potential), Chile (especially the Bío-Bío & Itata regions), Germany (not just the Rhine, the Pfalz & Deidesheim is fantastic and there's Sauvignon Blanc) and France, you can never go wrong with France.
Margaux Nel, have you had any challenges being a woman in the wine industry?
Fortunately, other than some biased from older generations and the occasional "You're the winemaker? Are you old enough!" I've pretty much had no challenges. I know what I can do and can't do & also do all the cellar work - so that makes it easier, as there's no need for me to lift a 500 litre barrel (I've got Leon for that). Other than that, I do everything and more, than most male counterparts.
In South Africa and especially on our family farm, we're mostly a female run operation with only a few men in the cellar and farm. Even, in what may be perceived a "male only" focused South African industry, old timer farmers appreciate it when we visit their vines and offer a little "new" advice - we're incredibly fortunate to work with some exceptional growers.