40 Under 40: Callan Williams

Zimbabwean born Callan Williams is a millennial on a mission. The epitome of not-very-old-school cool, she has become prominent in the South African wine industry. Her wines and marketing are as rock ‘n roll as herself and despite entering the market fairly recently, Callan has rendered herself as a very capable winemaker with a strong brand following.

Callan enrolled at Elsenburg in 2009 with her heart set on becoming a cattle farmer but soon changed course to pursue winemaking. In 2014 she launched The Garajeest, her very on-trend brand of wines that consists of an edgy Cabernet Franc and Semillion. Her marketing is deliberate yet raw – it is hard to separate the girl from the brand. And rightly so, as Callan is The Garajeest. Her youthful love for life, music and wine can be seen on her Instagram profile - a mix of über cool images and melancholy. She has a wilful, hustlin’ energy that leads me to believe that she will become as big as she is working to be. Seek Callan and her wines out, you are bound to be charmed. We talked wine and happiness.

What vintage are you?

1990

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

She'll leave you wanting more.

What sparked your love for food and the drink?

My fondest memories always include food, wine, family and friends - I believe that it brings people together and makes one happy. The science of wine and viticulture as well, all the elements and reactions is a world of its own and so captivating.

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

It would be difficult to choose between my Cabernet Franc or my Semillon - it depends whether the aliens prefer red or white.

What is still on your wine bucket list?

I would love to travel more, experience the wine regions of the world and try for my Master of Wine.

What makes a wine fine?

Quality and balance.

What do you rate as your proudest achievement?

Releasing my own wine label.

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

Anything that compromises quality.

What would you like to achieve over the next 15 years?

I want The Garajeest to be a globally recognized and exported brand.

Who or what is your idea of oenological brilliance?

Anyone who is taking risks in the industry and in this economy. New-wave winemakers are brilliant – they go against the grain, push boundaries and go against convention to make wines that they believe in and make a name for themselves amongst South Africa's elite.

Where are you happiest?

I am happiest during harvest whilst making a new vintage.

Biggest vice?

I struggle to bite my tongue.

Where would you like to see us go and grow over the next ten years?

I would love independent producers to be recognized by consumer support. More South Africans need to be drinking different wines, talking wine, supporting events and new brands.

What's next for you?

A new release, watch this space!

Jacob Zuma has finally lost the plot completely and is confiscating all the wine in South Africa. You can save one bottle of wine from your collection – what do you choose?

I'll bribe Zuma and keep my collection.

What is your favourite food and wine memory?

My family tasting my wine for the first time over mom's cooking.

What is your ultimate cellar playlist?

Rock 'n roll, baby!

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Bruce Springsteen. Alone. I would cook Italian paired with The Garajeest, no need for dessert.

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

The worst thing is that it is cut throat and anyone with a nose or pen seems to be an expert on your wine. The best thing is that absolutely love what I do. From the vineyard and cellar right through to marketing and events. The different wines I get to try and the exceptional restaurants I am lucky enough to enjoy. And the calibre of people I get to interact with!

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

Work with what you have, remember why you started and drink better wine.

Callan Williams

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