Wine industry benefits from transference of skills

Friday, 16 April, 2004
Delani Latsky
Although the French give the appearance of being relaxed they take wine-making very seriously
The internationally acclaimed Wildekrans Wine Estate, situated in the prestigious Walker Bay region near Hermanus, has been named one of the ‘Hottest New World Wineries’ – quite an achievement for an estate that only started producing wines in 1995.

It may be because the estate is situated in the Overberg, benefiting from this region’s climate, or perhaps it’s because the estate’s winemaker and owner, Bruce Elkin, was taught the skills of his trade under the expert guide of Jerome Roger from Chateâu du Prieuré des Mourges, in the South of France.

Bruce is certainly not the only winemaker that has been trained in France, or who travels between the two countries on a regular basis to partake in harvest, and brush up on skills. In fact, it is not uncommon, and may be one of the reasons why South Africa is achieving much so much recognition for it’s world-class wines across the globe.

Bruce explains that although the French give the appearance of being quite relaxed they are very precise in their wine-making and take it very seriously. And, even though it is a rather ancient art, the modern French winemaker will get excellent support from the local laboratories as well as drawing on consultants when needed.

Their winemaking methods have been developed over centuries, so the Chateau’s with good quality grapes will produce consistently good wines. Ultimately the French are purists, believing in the importance of keeping the wine at the correct temperatures during the various stages in winemaking. ‘The French believe that wine is made in the vineyards, not in the cellar – so in the cellar we should intervene as little as possible,’ explains Bruce.

Transference of skills most definitely work both ways, and it is probably the tenacity of our winemaker’s approach that is appealing to the French. Because South African vineyards have not been around for so long, we are still experimenting a great deal more both in the vineyards and in the cellar, which makes life a lot more unpredictable and maybe more interesting. Perhaps it is this approach that brings foreign wine-makers like Jerome back to our shores.

Like any other business it is important for winemakers to travel, to keep abreast of trends so as to ensure that South Africa as a new producing wine country knows what is happening in the world. This will help to guarantee that the industry remains competitive, especially as estates and wine-regions are not only competing against one another on a national level but on the international markets too. ‘Traveling to different winemaking regions throughout the world encourages one to produce even better wines when you see what is being achieved elsewhere,’ say Bruce.

His winemaking philosophy has most definitely been influenced by his mentor. It’s to have fun, respect the soil, keep it simple, and put ninety percent of energy into the vineyard care. He believes that South Africa can learn from their approach, especially the feeling of community. ‘I cannot speak for the Bordeaux or Northern French, but the Southerners are warm and friendly, they never stop talking, laughing, gesticulating with everyone. The young and the old all come together to work the harvest and in between they help each other harvest their own small plots of grapes,’ smiles Bruce.

Bruce and Jerome met on a marketing trip to London for the London Wine Trade Fair, where they were both represented by the same agent. They soon became friends, with Jerome inviting him to spend a harvest at Château du Prieuré des Mourges. The farm is in the South of France in the Languedoc Region about half an hour from the Mediterranean, Spain and the Pyrenees.

Traditionally farms in this region consist of a number of small parcels of land spread over an area of up to 20 kilometers. It would be here that Bruce would develop his passion for the grape, his philosophy on winemaking and forge a friendship that has grown over the years with Jerome coming to South Africa to help Bruce during harvest. A great partnership and the opportunity for a small wine-estate in this country to learn from one of the world’s oldest producing nations.

Issued by: Meier & McEwen Marketing & Media on behalf of Wildekrans Wine Estate
Contact: Tina Meier-Carter & Delani Latsky