40 Under 40: Susan Erasmus

In an industry that occasionally feels like it was designed by a committee of winos, somms and critics; meeting someone like Susan Erasmus makes you want to rejoice and take a big, hearty slug of wine. No sights in sight because it is only wine, after all.

Susan was born in the Cape and relocated with her family to the Free State soon after. She made a swift return to the winelands after school and studied viticulture and oenology at the University of Stellenbosch. Local and international harvests followed graduation and she joined Vrede and Lust Estate Franschhoek in 2006, bagging the title as Landbouweekblad’s ‘Women’s Winemaker of the Year’ on her maiden vintage. Susan was at the helm of winemaking for 11 years and crafted consistently delicate wines with layers of flavour that portrays the classic elegance of the farm. 

Susan is now part of the Laffort team in SA as well and will assist with consulting at Vrede and Lust in the future as needed. If the previous decade is anything to go by, the next decade will bring even greater achievements, as hard work and quality is one thing she clearly does not compromise on. Susan is a devoted wife and mother balancing her love for wine with her love for her family. I asked her some Proustish questions of life in wine.

What vintage are you?

1981

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

Picked at optimal ripeness, showed potential as a young wine. A few rough edges during barrel ageing but matured to be a bottle full of expression and longevity!

What sparked your love for food and the drink?

I grew up in the Free State, so I had to run from the mealies.

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?

Semillon - and if they don't think it's a drink, it will be my Space Name!

What is still on your wine bucket list?

Very many family holidays, and evenings filled with sunsets and glasses of wine with friends and family. And a Legoland Holiday with the kids!

What makes a wine fine?

Palate weight and balance trumps nose in my opinion.

What do you rate as your proudest achievement?

Seeing how people really enjoy a bottle of wine is better than any award or accolade.

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

Compromising on any aspect of winemaking.

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

Enjoying every aspect of my career and focusing on the small things that bring a smile to your face and to live in the moment. 

Who or what is your idea of oenological brilliance?

Making memories when enjoying a glass of wine. And no sweet reds, tart acids or jammy ones, please!

How do you handle the work/life balance?

I think this is something that all working moms have in common!  There should be a law where we can all go home early. Having a fabulous and supporting husband helps.

Where are you happiest?

I have a soft spot for Buffelsbaai close to Knysna.

Biggest vice?

Cheese.

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

Better prices for bulk wine and making a plan with our leafroll virus programs. We need to look after what we have!

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

I would rather fill up a 20-litre canister from a Semillon barrel.

What is your favourite food and wine memory?

Dinner in Bordeaux as a young married couple.

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

I would love to sit down to dinner with my parents and grandparents when they were my age. And I would cook mushroom risotto -  top of the list for one of my comfort foods! 

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

Heard it through the grapevine takes on a whole new meaning when you work in the wine industry! The best of the industry must be the way that we appreciate our fellow winemakers’ products and know that all of them have their place in the sun.  

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

Print out the lyrics of the Baz Luhrmann song – Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen) - and read it through! It's all true!

Susan Erasmus

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