5 minutes with Dirk van Zyl, Winemaker at Saxenburg Wine Estate in the Stellenbosch Wine Appellation…

Dirk van Zyl, Winemaker at Saxenburg Wine Estate

I recently had a chat with Dirk van Zyl, whose first wines he made at Saxenburg are about to be launched. Easy to say humble and passionate, but that is exactly what he is. Lovely young man, enjoying being where he is, what the vineyards have to offer and what lie ahead.

I spent 5 minutes with him on Zoom recently and then he answered the questions below.


What was the defining moment in your life that set you on the path of becoming a winemaker?
Not so much a specific moment, but having grown up on a wine farm in Bonnievale, it has been my passion from the start. Never even considered doing anything else!

Where did you train to become a winemaker?
At the University of Stellenbosch

Kleine Zalze Cellarmaster Alastair Rimmer

Who would you regard as your mentor?
I think you learn bits from anyone you work with, from the person who cleans the tanks, to the CEO, but I would have to make special mention of Alastair Rimmer, RJ Botha and Carl van der Merwe in shaping the way I approach wine making.

You work with a selection of some of the world’s most noble grape varieties. Is there one other variety with which you would really like to work?
I quite like experimenting, so it would be fun working with lesser known varieties on an experimental scale. I’ve also always wondered about making premium Colombard – since seeing it on the family farm and would quite like to play around with that if the opportunity presents itself.


Is there another wine you would like to make in your cellar with the varieties available to you there?
I’m always experimenting, so if something special comes out, we’ll see if we could release some commercially or to our wine club.

You seem to be quite innovative with new wine styles – what leads you there?
I think the inspiration for that comes from two sides – the most important one is driven by terroir and trying my utmost to get the best expression or interpretation of it possible. Secondly, it’s being inspired by other thought-provoking wines, not trying to copy them, but using them as inspiration for trying something new.

If you could choose anywhere in the world to make wine other than where you are now, where would it be?
Probably the Rhone in France.

Syrah ripening o nthe vine

And what grape type would you use?
Syrah of course!

Saxenburg Private Collection Syrah 2017

I know it is a bit tricky asking a father to choose his favourite child, but which one of your wines is your current favourite?
None of the current Saxenburg releases were made by me, but from our current Private Collection range, our 2017 Syrah is my favourite.

Chateau Margaux 1961

Your greatest bottle of wine ever?
1961 Chateau Margaux

What is your favourite style of food?
Too many to mention. Really depends on the setting and occasion.

Your best style of restaurant, you enjoy visiting?
Impossible to pick one – I equally enjoy fine dining and a good steakhouse!

Sir David Attenborough

Your ideal dinner party guest?
David Attenborough. I think being able to tap into his knowledge of the natural world would make for brilliant dinner table conversation.

Your favourite holiday destination?
Anywhere near the ocean or mountains.

What is on your bedside table as reading matter at the moment?
Its harvest, so not much reading is done at the moment. Last book I read was by Dan Brown.

One piece of music you would take with you to a desert island?
The soundtrack to Les Miserables or any other musical score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, as my wife normally sings those soundtracks at home.

Chenin Blanc in the hands of the harvester

I’m currently working on….
Multiple experiments are ongoing in the cellar… some carbonic maceration Pinotage, a small special selection of Chenin Blanc in barrel and submerged cap Syrah fermentation….

My favourite weekend getaway is….
A remote cottage in the mountains with my wife and a few bottles of great wine.

Guilty Pleasures?
Vegetating on the couch watching The Masters or the British Open golf tournaments.

Comrades Marathon

One day, I will….
Run the Comrades Marathon.

Dirk van Zyl in the Saxenburg Tank Cellar

How can a visitor contact your winery?

Give us a call or send us an email.

021 903 6113




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