Taking Liquid Photographs with winemaker Ian Naudé

Ian Naudé is a passionate winemaker, after so many years his enthusiasm for wine is undimmed, and his enjoyment of a lovely glass of wine is infectious. Ian radiates happiness and positivity.

His own wine range is based on keeping wines honest and reflecting a sense of place, but it is not one of continuous winemaking improvement and intervention. On the contrary, it is one of less is more.

Ian loves that young and dynamic winemakers are fashioning their winemaking on the principle that the vine makes the wine, that terroir is everything and that the winemaker’s job is really not to interfere too much and screw it up. He works closely with Rosa Kruger, Eben Sadie, André Morgenthal and others and together they have driven the Old Vine Project – so successful in concentrating focus on the vineyard. The OVP recognises vines of 35 years and older and Ian would like to see this regulated officially. It is obvious that Ian rejoices in the passion and commitment to respecting terroir that SA’s new wave of winemakers is showing.

Ian always hated being told what sort of wine to make and having made wine in some eight countries he realized that in trying to make a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, “you are always going to be second best”. And anyway, in South Africa we are “sitting on a pot of gold”.

Throughout, Ian stresses the importance of place and terroir. Ian used a lovely phrase, “terroir is a liquid photograph in a bottle”. The taste of the grape is the basis of any wine, “what you must do is always work back to the berry, remember what the berry was and train your winemaking to do as little to alter that memory”. Ian doesn’t use additives (“I hate adding to wine”) other than a touch of sulphur if necessary, and bottles what the land has given – not what he has designed, “put the vintage in the bottle”, he says. He works with eight winegrowers in sourcing his grapes and each site is paramount to his philosophy. A wine might come from a single vineyard, or it might be a blend of two or more sites – but always he is blending sites, not wines: “it is not cultivars, but terroirs you blend” and this excites Ian who annually evaluates each site’s terroir and what it might offer to a blend. Origin and site is critical, “people like place”.

Over the years Ian realised that where a winemaker can truly leave a thumbprint is in blends and along with friends like Eben Sadie he has worked on white cultivars. “Blending is my passion”, he says.

His White Blend, usually based on Chenin Blanc, Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc is rich and textured, with pure fruit and generosity. The 2009 (his latest release) was golden, savoury and seductive. The 2006 had grass, orange peel, beeswax and honey. No fancy brand names for Ian, just the cultivar or ‘White’ another bow to his belief in simplicity and “it is all about the wine”.

A big fan of Sémillon, Ian is sad that it isn’t favoured more, due he feels to its small window of ripening (three or four days) and that many used to get it wrong. What is needed now is to put the wine into the consumer’s hand, let them taste its quality, putting varietals like Sémillon on the retail shelf just won’t be enough. His 2016 should help, white flowers and lime, suave and lingering, still a baby, but splendid. South African Cinsault is “all Turkish Delight”, says Ian, and his was, lustrous with rose petals and bright cherry and liked by our group almost as much as his Grenache.

Ian is right about the potential of SA white blends, it seems, Platter’s awarded five stars to nine white blends this year, more than many other categories and those that got them show the hallmark of minimum intervention and blending terroir as much as cultivar. Each has the element Ian feels is vital, a place and a story. “We can only understand a wine if we understand its story; wine needs a story”.