Phillip Retief, CEO of Van Loveren Family Vineyards

Phillip Retief and his three Retief Cousins are third generation wine growers and makers. Van Loveren, in the Bonnievale region, and the Four Cousins brands are probably of the best known wine brands in South Africa.

I spent five minutes with Phillip to find out more about him and the Family Wine Business

Hennie & Jean Retief

When your grandfather, Hennie Retief, bought Van Loveren, was he already a Wine Farmer? Tell us about him and your grandmother.
He was 26 years old and originated from Paarl from a farming family. Not a winemaker at all. That happened in time. Grandmother Jean was a matriarch for her era. She inspired and loved people through her interest in them and nature, specifically her garden. She would have loved the new world and technology from a news and mobile phone perspective but would probably never loved the idea of more technology. She loved talking plentiful.

The trees on the Estate are well marked, with Braille too

What is the story of your grandmother and her tree planting?
She just started at some point during the second world war to plant trees for historic occasions, be it political, International or from a family perspective through happy and sad moments. These trees have left her legacy in the garden and the Van Loveren history and future.

What were the innovations brought about by Wynand and Nico, the Second Generation, perhaps cold fermentation?
Yes indeed cold fermentation which they brought to the winery during the late sixties and early seventies was a catalyst for the basis of launching the Van Loveren brand in 1980. It was almost a sliding door reality with an offer made on a farm in the Bonnievale region during the early sixties which was initially accepted, and finance approved by the bank. At the last moment the seller wanted a higher price and the purchase fell through. Wynand might have gone to live there and Van Loveren as we see it today, might never have happened as the brothers might at that point have decided to split the small business.

Van Loveren Premier Grand Cru

Tell me about the first wine launched under the Van Loveren Label?
Van Loveren Premier Grand Cru a fresh and elegant dry white blend with plenty of fruit given the large Colombar base. A total of 500 cases bottled in the first year 1980. After the 1981 flood only 100 cases were left.

Your grandfather told your father and uncle not to worry about the March 1981 flood, why?
He was a very calm individual and cared for his family and grand children a lot. He was probably very pragmatic in his approach and believed in their ability to work through the drama and be stronger for it. Oupa Hennie’s “dont worry” about the flood in 1981 has a story behind it. He told Nico and Wynand that a flood happens once in a hundred years, and in their lifetime they will not need to worry about it again. Fast forward to 2003 when the same happened, and Van Loveren lost 100 000 cases of wine.  A beautiful way to illustrate the growth in production since 1981.

Van Loveren Blanc de Noir

You have a very close relationship with the Supermarkets, when did that begin?
Van Loveren Blanc de Noir was the first wine listed by PnP in 1983. PnP was a strong supporter of our wines, brand and what we stood for as a small business. Wynand managed this relationship in person and was one of the first to work with retail, outside of the larger wholesalers at that time.

The launch of the first Red Wine in 1998. What were the varieties used?
It was a blend of Shiraz, Pinotage and Ruby Cabernet. Consumers were craving a red wine from the Van Loveren white wine stable.

Neil, Phillip, Bussell & Hennie, The Four Cousins

Shortly after you and your cousins joined the family firm, you launched in 2000 The Four Cousins Brand. A huge success. You once told me that you got your best ideas in the shower in the morning. What other ideas have been successful? Any that have not?
Tangled Tree has been a fair success. Almost Zero has been very successful as well as our lighter alcohol wines in the Four Cousins range. Brands like Unplugged in a pouch, and Cape Rock in a unique bottle, failed, while many other brands do well in certain arenas/regions, but not the full market.

In 2011, you launched a range of wines called Christina van Loveren. Who was she?
She was the ancestor of my grandmother Jean Retief who arrived in the Cape during 1699. We still hold her Trousseau Kist in our tasting room.

Christina’s Restaurant

How does your hospitality division fit in the Van Loveren Brand?
It is crucially important to connect with our consumers and the first point of contact with many of them. Only offering wine, like in the nineties does not work anymore. The combination with food, wine pairings, outdoor activities all add to the experience and engagement of the company, its people and its brands.

I thought taking over the Zandvliet wines was a major coup, is that working well for you? Any ideas for expanding the brand?
It is a lovely and strong brand with a large loyal following. Covid has messed up some of our current plans, but we are fully committed to maintaining the brand integrity by utilising Jacques as the same winemaker, using the same vineyards and access to juice, taking over all the aged wines and the winery equipment. So the integrity is in tact and we can only tweak that for the future and energise the marketing and sales.

The Lions of Van Loveren, Nico & Wynand Retief

Now, Phillip, some questions to find out about you.

What do you like to eat most?
I honestly struggle to pick a favourite!

Tripe stew

What’s your least Favourite Food?

Do you have a childhood, Mom or Gran food memory?
Gran – Custard and Jelly (set in the form of a bunny or other animal).
Mom – The smell of Tripe getting back from school and good wholesome food in general.

What is your favourite style of eatery?

Talent you would like to have?
Arts or music

One day they will be read

Your current bedside book?
Probably about 5 that I have not finished yet.

Favourite TV Series?
Watching Survivor with my youngest son

One guest for dinner – who would that be?
Tuli Madonsela

Rib Eye on a braai

At home. Do you cook? What do you cook?
I don’t cook, but I love a braai and can probably braai anything from fish, to steak, to lamb or chicken and rarely mess it up.

I’m currently working on…. Getting fit after a shoulder operation. Looking at ways to continuously improve our business and evaluating what individually or collectively can be done to make our region and country a better place for all to live in.

My greatest thrill at work is… Seeing a smile on our employees faces.

Happy crew of workers

When I’m not working, I love to… work some more! Cycle MTB, play some golf with the boys and spend time in nature.

My favourite weekend getaway is…. Any place in the Bush

Guilty Pleasures?
Third glass of wine

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