Breedekloof Makers head to France to learn about Chenin

Wednesday, 26 June, 2019
Carla van der Merwe
The first Chenin Blanc International Congress will take place in Angers, France from 1 to 3 July 2019. The congress will highlight Chenin blanc's versatility, its singularity and its soils. When the Breedekloof winemakers learned of this congress they jumped at the opportunity to expand their knowledge and learn more about this versatile grape.

The Breedekloof wine region’s pioneering Chenin blanc initiative, the Breedekloof Makers is in its fourth year of bringing together like-minded winemakers committed to emphasizing the quality of wines being made in the region, as well as accentuating the diverse terroir pockets. Having grown from nine initial producers to twelve in 2018 and welcoming another three this year, really shows the region's commitment to Chenin blanc.

The five female winemakers of the Breedekloof, Lieza van der Merwe (Merwida), Annamarie van Niekerk (Botha Cellar), Ivy du Toit (Jason's Hill), Mariette Stofberg-Coetzee (Le Belle Rebelle) and Elizma Visser (Olifantsberg), will be traveling to the Loire Valley in France together with two thorns among the roses, winemakers WS Visagie (UniWines) and Francois Joubert (Du Preez Estate).

Lieza van der Merwe is the first female winemaker on her family farm, Merwida. The van der Merwe family have been farming with grapes and making wine for seven generations. Lieza's fondest childhood memories, from as far back as she can remember, all took place in the vineyards and at the winery. After completing her winemaking degree at Stellenbosch University, she worked harvests in both Sonoma, USA and Germany before coming back to work at home. She's proud to be part of a family business and to work alongside her father and brother every day.

What are you most looking forward to at the congress?
"Chenin blanc is my favourite varietal to work with, it is such a versatile grape and you can mold it into exactly the type of wine you want. I am most looking forward to meeting the local producers and hearing their stories about Chenin and farming in the Loire Valley. And of course drinking some world class Chenin blanc! See you soon France (I hope you are ready for Team Breedekloof)!"

Annamarie van Niekerk initially intended to follow a career in chemistry. After a short introduction to harvest at Bergkelder at Distell, she was hooked on the fine art of winemaking and the chemistry of the winemaking process. Annamarie acquired her B.Sc Agric degree in viticulture and oenology from Stellenbosch University in 2008. In December 2008 she became the first female Assistant Winemaker at Botha Cellar. After being promoted to Winemaker in 2010 her focus shifted mostly to white wines. Annamarie enjoys the art of beautiful things and when she is not juggling winemaking and being a mother, she likes to take on DIY projects.

What are you most looking forward to at the congress?
"The International Chenin Congress is the perfect platform to set the bar for South African Chenin blanc and even more so for Breedekloof. It is an opportunity to interact with Chenin growers, - lovers and drinkers. I am truly looking forward to absorbing as much information about the different cultivation and winemaking practices and to improve my palate on international Chenin blanc wines. There is only one way to find out what the world wants in a Chenin blanc and that is to travel the world…"

Ivy du Toit is the cellarmaster and winemaker at her family farm, Jason's Hill. Ivy grew up in the Slanghoek Valley on her sixth generation, family-owned farm and started making wine here in 2001. Prior to working on the farm Ivy completed four harvests in France, as well as a harvest in Italy and the USA. Ivy is passionate about their family tradition of winemaking, the Breedekloof area, her work and her family. Her husband Alister is also involved with the farm and her three children can often be spotted helping out in the cellar during harvest.

What are you most looking forward to at the congress?
"I'm excited to hear about the winemaking techniques globally used and practiced. Meeting and interacting with producers and winemakers. Discussing the challenges of producing world renowned Chenin."

Mariette Stofberg-Coetzee is the winemaker and heartbeat of Le Belle Rebelle. Being inspired by her grandfather she went to study BSc Agriculture Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Stellenbosch. Loving to travel the world, she was privileged to work harvests at various cellars in South Africa, California and France. Her dream of coming back to the family farm and produce boutique wines with her father became a reality in 2012 when Stofberg Family Vineyards was established. She is very passionate about wine, the wine industry and the people with whom she can share this journey.

What are you most looking forward to at the congress?
"Chenin is arguably the world’s most versatile variety. I am excited to spend time with some of the best winemakers and growers from around the world to exchange ideas on both winemaking and viticulture, all in the common interest to grow Chenin on the global scene. The cherry on top is to taste all these special wines which I feel doesn’t happen every day."

Elizma Visser has been the winemaker and viticulturist at Olifantsberg Family Vineyards for the last four years. At Olifantsberg Elizma's focus is on creating premium wines from her high density echalas (stok-by-paaltjie) vineyards. Using sustainable methods such as expert pruning consultants, solar power and underground water measuring probes, Olifantsberg is actively farming for the future. Prior to working in the Breedekloof, Elizma gained harvest experience in France, Italy, Stellenbosch and Wolseley with particular focus on organic and biodynamic winemaking practices.

What are you most looking forward to at the congress?
"I'm looking forward to expanding my knowledge of Chenin blanc and especially the different and diverse soil profiles. I'm interested in the diversity of cultivation methods with a focus on organic and biodynamic farming methods. I'd also like to learn the French take on Chenin blanc wine styles and return with inspiration to improve our wines using their passion to fuel my winemaking."

WS Visagie has a natural passion for winemaking having been raised on a wine farm in the West Coast. WS is an energetic winemaker and responsible for the white wines at UniWines. After completing his studies, WS completed harvests in Germany, USA and France. His time in Germany and the US exposed him to a variety of winemaking technologies and techniques, while his time in France taught him the art of fine winemaking on a smaller scale. His mission is to make estate-quality wines in a large winery to show the world what can be done when you put your mind and energy behind something.

What are you most looking forward to at the congress?
"I'm looking forward to learning how the French might do things differently in their wine production and vineyard management of Chenin blanc. I'd also like to hear different perspectives of what makes a good Chenin blanc and how we can improve the aging potential of South African Chenin blanc."

Francois Joubert is a third generation wine professional, having been born and raised on his family farm in Stellenbosch. Francois completed his B.Sc Agric degree in Viticulture and Oenology in 2004 and his Post-graduate Diploma in Wine Business Management in 2015. Francois' international experience includes two harvests in Sonoma County, USA and harvests in Canada, Australia and Namibia. Locally he has Assistant Winemaker experience from Vergelegen winery in Somerset West and six years Winemaker experience from Asara Estate in Stellenbosch before taking up the role of Winemaker at Du Preez Estate in January 2016.

What are you most looking forward to at the congress?
"With my first Breedekloof Chenin blanc currently aging in barrel, I'm not yet part of the Breedekloof Makers initiative. My goal with attending the congress is to learn more about all aspects of the Chenin varietal, in order to produce a world class wine for release next year."

Disclaimer: Carla lives in the Breedekloof with her husband Francois Joubert and provides marketing support for both Du Preez Estate and Olifantsberg Family Vineyards. She'll also be joining the Breedekloof team in the Loire to learn more about Chenin blanc and will be wine.co.za's roving reporter at the Congress.

Carla van der Merwe

Carla has a deep love for the South African winelands and has worked in several sectors of the wine industry including cellar door and marketing before taking up the position as Wine.co.za News Editor in 2011. Having since moved on from a full-time career in the wine industry, Carla now works as a freelance wine writer.

Carla has a number of qualifications to her name which include a degree in English, a post graduate diploma in Marketing and her WSET Level 3 Advanced Certificate in Wine and Spirits.

She represented wine.co.za at the first International Congress of Chenin Blanc - held in Angers, Loire, France in June 2019.

Lieza van der Merwe
Lieza van der Merwe

Elizma Visser
Elizma Visser

Annamarie van Niekerk
Annamarie van Niekerk

Ivy du Toit
Ivy du Toit

Francois Joubert
Francois Joubert

Mariette Stofberg-Coetzee
Mariette Stofberg-Coetzee

WS Visagie
WS Visagie

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