Meet Richard Duckitt, head winemaker at Bellingham

Monday, 18 December, 2017
Bellingham Wines
“One has to respect and appreciate wine to really understand it. You can possibly make good wine, but not great wine if you don’t understand and appreciate its finer intricacies,” -Richard Duckitt.

Richard Duckitt describes himself as “a man with high standards” - a good thing too as he steps into the role of head winemaker at Bellingham this harvest season, a role that he describes as “his proudest wine moment”.

With harvest 2018 steadily getting ready in the vineyards, this dynamic winemaker reveals his plans and ambitious for one of South Africa’s most entrenched wine brands.

“Each step of my winemaking career has been an incredible journey and has played a vital part in my experience gained, my personal character, and the passion for wine I have today,” says Richard, adding that “there is no better teacher than experience, and my road travelled certainly paved the way, all the way to Bellingham..”

With Bellingham’s great brand recognition, comes great responsibility, and it is something that Richard doesn’t take lightly. He says although he has no intention on reinventing the wheel, and every intention of building on the solid foundation that exists at Bellingham, he is looking forward to placing his own stamp on the wines: “I have a few ideas that I am super excited to try, especially on the old vineyards that Bellingham is famous for.”

And don’t tell him that this can’t be done either, Richard admits that he has a stubborn streak that often inspires him to achieve what others think is impossible: “If somebody says it can’t be done, then challenge accepted, and somehow I will get it done - which might be interpreted as stubbornness.”

He adds:“I also love creating and making new things, therefore my winery is always in action, doing things differently and lots of experiments and tastings going on permanently. I have high standards and I am often unconventional and modern in my approach, but I also have some “old-school” ways of doing things. I appreciate wine, and I firmly believe that there is no right or wrong when it comes to wine.”

Richard says his winemaking style is ‘terroir-driven’: “for me the vineyards are what make the wines exciting. If the vineyards are good, I am a happy man. I believe wine styles are determined by the vineyards and origins. To make good wine, one must recognise the origin and what style of wine the vineyards are most inclined towards, and then run with that. I have tried making styles that are not suited to specific regions, and I can promise you it is literally swimming upstream! The wines always feel forced.”

It follows that Richard’s wines at Bellingham will be balanced, and ‘unforced’: “There are winemaking manipulations such as more oak and less oak and sweetness, also acidity, ripeness and alcohol, but I like natural balance and freshness and will follow this route when making winemaking decisions.” For Richard, less is definitely more.

Richard completed his studies at Elsenburg, and completed a viticultural practical on a farm in Darling. He worked at Muratie, and later vintages in California and Bordeaux – a stint which influenced his including Cabernet Sauvignon as his favourite wine style. He reveals that this changed slightly during his time as red winemaker at Boschendal, where he fell in love with Shiraz. On the white wine front, Richard says he “migrated from Sauvignon Blanc to Chenin Blanc, which is why Bellingham is such a good fit for me.”

Apart from his trained background, Richard comes from a long line of farmers, a background that blends well with his love for the outdoors: “I love the outdoors. I like creating and making new things and ideas, love tasting, cooking and have an appreciation for wine -  let’s face it, there is no other profession that brings all these things together. It was a natural and very easy choice for me.”

Asked to describe himself using wine terms, Richard answered: “I would have liked to say, “Muscular, intellectual and bright”, but in reality, I am probably more, “concentrated and structured. A little serious, yet fun and friendly. WellRounded and fleshy in the mid, with a touch of spice. Have good balance and hopefully age - ability.”

This festive season, Richard is looking forward to enjoying his favourite food-and-wine match, Bellingham The Bernard Series SMV with Nguni steak… relishing the calm before the 2018 harvest storm.

A harvest which Richard predicts will be “much better than everyone thinks”.