40 Under 40: Carl van der Merwe

Monday, 31 July, 2017
Catea Lizabet Sinclair
It would be a point of pride for any South African winemaker to be chosen as a member of the prestigious Cape Winemakers Guild. Carl van der Merwe carries the title with great ease and has garnered himself a reputation as a Chenin Blanc and wine business aficionado.

He puts his savvy to good use by creating a string of notable wines - the DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc won The International Chenin Blanc Trophy for three years in a row at The International Wine Challenge in London, whilst steadily building DeMorgenzon as a globally superior wine brand. Carl is a testament to ethics & ethos – he works hard, sticks to his guns and produces consistently exceptional wines with as little interference as possible. With his keen business sense, it would not be reaching to think that Carl will be a major driving force in cementing South Africa as a respected wine producing country internationally.  I asked him a few questions to get to know the man behind DeMorgenzon.

What vintage are you?

  1. A pretty dismal vintage all over, except for Port!

If you could bottle yourself, what would the tasting note be?

Intense and structure, with playful undertones.

What sparked your love for food & the drink?

Ever since a young child I have loved being creative in the kitchen. The fascination with wine sparked later, and really took shape during my time spent in France. I worked a vintage in 2002 in Bordeaux, and spent extensive time travelling throughout France after that. The concentration of regional differences for food and wine in France continues to fascinate me.

Aliens comes down from space & you must explain to them in one bottle of wine what it is that you do – what do you make?

I would grace them with a bottle of mature DeMorgenzon Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc grows into such an interesting wine. The vivacious fruit and floral aromas of youth fade into complexed characters of spice, toasted nuts, caramelised ginger and honey. In that they would see the heart of what I aspire to produce. Great wines that grow up in bottle.

What is still on your wine bucket list?

Many things…. An in depth visit to the famous Riesling vineyards in Germany, and relaxed time spent in Tuscany.

What makes a wine fine?

A fine wine is the culmination of a dream, cherished by someone that understands the terroir, cares for vineyards, and can draw on a depth of winemaking expertise, in order to create an unadulterated expression of a particular style or site.

What do you rate as your proudest achievement?

Witnessing a successful business at DeMorgenzon. The culmination of great recognition and good management practices, that translated into a healthy business.

What is a big no-no to you when it comes to making wine?

Becoming complacent in your approach to anything. In all things related to growing and making wine, we are faced with choices. All choices should be carefully considered, and executed with care and consideration for all possible outcomes.

What would you like to achieve over the next?

DeMorgenzon’s continued success as it becomes recognised as one of “The Great Domaines” of the world.

Who or what is your idea of oenological brilliance?

Great packaging, and a wine that over delivers.

Where are you happiest?

Slalom water-skiing or shredding a piece of downhill on my mountain bike.

You have 100 bucks in your pocket - what wine do you buy?

DeMorgenzon DMZ Chenin.

Biggest vice?

Rusks!

 What are the biggest challenges we face in the South African wine industry? Where would you like to see us go & grow over the next ten years?

SA needs to produce more quality, branded, packaged wine. Our industry will not be sustainable with most of our wine landing up in bulk containers. Farmers need to be paid more for their fruit, and brand owners need to bring focus into their portfolios, thereby being able to increase the prices and perception of SA wine.

Government will have to support the industry more, especially through support in growing the export sector of the business.

Your cellar is underwater. You can save one bottle of wine from your collection – what do you choose?

1982 Cos de Estournel.

Favourite food & wine memory?

The recent CWG tasting of Romanee Conti, followed by dinner at Rust en Vrede.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? What would you cook and why?

CJ Louis Leipoldt, Simon vd Stel, Hendrik Witbooi, Winston Churchill, King Shaka, King Moshoeshoe, Lord Kitchener and Koos De la Rey.

Dinner would be a traditional Cape dinner, with local delicacies. Guinneafowl and Cape Francolin as a starter, main course would be Cape Seafood-Crayfish, Geelbek, Perlemoen and Octopus & we will end with a traditional Malva pudding and a selection of sun ripened fruits

 What is the best thing about working in the wine industry?

The people are amazing. From the colourful folk who tend the manual work, to the interesting business people who have chosen to invest. Everyone has a love for life, and this makes the industry a special experience.

Looking back, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Try to relax a little more!

Carl van der Merwe
Carl van der Merwe

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