Producing top quality wines over and over is no easy feat, but something successfully pulled off by the winemakers of The Franschhoek Cellar, time and again. The sole objective of Bellingham Wines, led by winemaker Niël Groenewald, is to be daringly unique and extraordinarily appealing. Hailing from Namibia, Niël’s interest in wine guided him to study at Stellenbosch. “I took agriculture as a subject at school and just totally fell in love with it. That, along with my love for chemistry, made winemaking the best option for me. When I was very young I wanted to become a chemical engineer, but I don’t think that that fits with my personality at all!” Asked whether he thinks winemaking is an art or a science, Niël replies, “Definitely a science, because you need to understand consumer needs, the whole winemaking process and the commercial aspect – all three of these, for me, are more of a science than an art. The ‘arty’ part comes into how you enjoy wine…”.
Niël’s favourite wine from Bellingham is The Bernard Series Small Barrel SMV; “finally, after a long time practicing, I feel that this blend has been perfected – it is a delicious Mediterranean blend,” he says. When it comes to looking ahead to where the South African wine industry is going, Niël says, “It’s not just about winemaking anymore, it’s about the story you tell combined with the quality of wine on offer – you need a craftier approach to winemaking to make it more exclusive and glamourous. I also feel that we need to build more status around brands and increase the prices of top quality wines here. Wines in SA are very low priced, which skews people’s perceptions of certain brands – exclusive and unique wines need to be priced higher.” For inspiration, Niël enjoys heading overseas to the wine regions in Napa, the Rhone Valley, Bordeaux, Italy, Australia and New Zealand. Asked what his wine philosophy is, Niël concludes, “It is one of minimal interference; I like to just set the conditions for a perfect fermentation. My analogy for winemaking is that it’s the same as making a gourmet omelette. You break all the eggs separately, check that they are not damaged and then start putting the final dish together. I ferment in the smallest possible containers, normally a barrel, check that everything has gone smoothly and then start blending.” And he does a mighty good job of it.
Responsible for Brampton’s red wines, Richard says that growing up on a farm, as well as his love for “tasting and experimenting” made going into winemaking a natural career path for him.
Following his graduation from Elsenburg College in Stellenbosch, with a Diploma in Viticulture and Cellar Technology, Richard went on to spend his first harvest at Muratie Wine Estate in Stellenbosch and has since completed two harvests in California and one in Bordeaux. Richard was a winemaker at Franschhoek Vineyards before joining the Brampton team in May 2015.
Lauded for his creativity and innovation with wine styles, Richard says that it’s his love for trying new things and the possibility of tasting and creating new flavours that get him motivated. “I also have high standards and I think that, coupled with my love for experimenting and unique combinations, is a good recipe for fresh ideas.”
“If I had to work anywhere else in the world but here, it would definitely be Sonoma in California. It’s a very exciting place to live and work, and the terroir is excellent and quite similar to what we have here. On the other hand, I love the old traditions of Spain and Italy, where wine is literally in their blood. It would be a very difficult choice and thankfully one I don’t have to make. I’m happy right here!”
Fairly new to The Franschhoek Cellar, JD graduated with a BScAgric in Viticulture and Oenology from the University of Stellenbosch in 2005, and then went on to complete an internship at Larkmead Vineyards in Napa in the USA before he returned to South Africa. In SA, he held the position of assistant winemaker at several wineries, including Simonsig in Stellenbosch and Boland Kelder in Paarl. After two years, he became head winemaker at Boland Kelders’ 8000-ton Daljosaphat winery, where he managed 10 permanent staff, including an assistant winemaker, before accepting his new position with The Franschhoek Cellar.
JD loves to work with Chenin Blanc and Shiraz, “both of them are very diverse varieties. I like experimenting with different yeast and wood components on grapes grown in different soil types. Attention to detail is the most important ‘rule’ in my winemaking philosophy.”
JD adores his job, but when not in the cellar he loves spending time outdoors – camping, hiking, kayaking, diving, fishing and taking part in any kind of water sports. “I also love active sports that get your adrenaline pumping, like skydiving and zip-lining. In quieter moments, I enjoy reading books by leading South African authors such as Wilbur Smith and Deon Meyer.”
“My perfect Saturday would be playing a round of golf and ending it off around the braai with friends – with a glass or two of wine, of course!”
We can’t wait to see what’s next from JD in his new position.
The Franschhoek Cellar
Telephone – +27 (0) 21 876 2086
Visit the website at www.thefranschhoekcellar.co.za
Information from Nicky Arthur PR