Uncorking young Matie winemakers
The Matie alumni network is immense. Over 200 000 professional contacts with whom you already have one thing in common … Using your alumni status to connect you with people who could be great resources for informational interviews or introductions, is an invaluable offering, writes Darren Maree.
The Development and Alumni Relations Division takes pride in acknowledging Maties alumni who work in various industries and countries. Given our geographic location, our academic context, our Pinotage claim to fame and the renown of our legendary Matie socials, wine is integral to our context, economy, history and social fabric.
Then along came COVID-19, and it seemed that the wine industry really took a hammering through absolutely no fault of their own. That definitely moved winemakers, wine marketers, wine distributors and wine estate owners up the MATIES ALUMNI WINE CLUB list of priority industries. “All things wine” became the debutante of our focused alumni networks. In 2020, we successfully launched our Maties Wine Club in Germany, the United Kingdom and Ireland. These wine clubs are linked to our Stellenbosch-based Maties Wine Club, housed at the new Alumni Welcoming Centre at Die Stal. And the aim with that? To provide opportunities for Maties to engage with various winemakers and owners of wine estates on the Stellenbosch Wine Route and in other wine-producing regions of South Africa.
The South African wine industry is claiming its rightful place in the sphere of global fine wine production, and it is more dynamic, innovative and creative than perhaps it has ever been before. Recently, Wineland magazine in an article entitled “30 under 30” highlighted the young up-and-coming individuals who are making waves in the South African wine arena. In this group alone, no fewer than 11 Maties stand tall in their respective roles, and their many accolades and achievements are creating headlines. Their passion is evident as these artisans of the grape all strive towards making the SA wine industry more diverse and inclusive, with an energised drive towards precision and sustainable production. With a tipple of ‘Proudly South African wine’ in hand, we can take a closer look at the Maties intent on making their mark in the SA wine industry.
Classmates Jenna Higgins and Kelsey Shungkung both recall that studying winemaking completely personifies the old adage of “Work hard, play hard”, especially with wine-tasting practicals followed by late evenings of making their own wines in the cellar of the JH Neethling Building. “I am currently assistant winemaker at Wellington Wines where I strive to always challenge myself and to continually improve and learn,” says Jenna. She also strongly believes that South Africa should promote responsible alcohol consumption. Kelsey plans on equipping herself with as much cellar and tasting experience as possible so that she can ensure innovative and informed decisions when it comes to winemaking. “Being part of the Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé programme has allowed me to rub shoulders and learn from some of my biggest role models in the industry, and I am thrilled beyond belief to be able to make wines with these titans of the industry, ” says Kelsey.
Originally from Vanderbijlpark, Natasha Pretorius feels no shame in admitting that the Cape winelands have truly captured her heart. With an MSc in Wine Biotechnology, she is no stranger to hard work, but rumour has it that she has a weakness for Monday Maties rugby matches and immersing herself in the student “gees”. “My goal is to become a Cape Winemakers Guild member in the near future,” says Natasha, and as the current winemaker at GlenWood Vineyards in Franschhoek, she is undoubtedly on her way to the top.
Rudger van Wyk says that his brother inspired him to study winemaking. As the winner of the prestigious Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year award in 2018, Stark Condé’s winemaker and the proud creator of his own wine label Kara-Tara, it is indisputable that Rudger has fully embraced wine as his lifestyle. “My passion is to be a mentor to younger generations. They must be encouraged to always be curious and allow their passions to lead them,” says Rudger.
Natasha Williams and Lieza van der Merwe had two very different introductions to wine; however, their passion and love for South African wine is cut from the same cloth. Natasha was raised in the Boland and enrolled for a BSc Molecular Biology and Biotechnology but then switched to winemaking in her second year. She is the proud creator and owner of her very own wine label, Lelie van Saron, and says that being promoted to winemaker at Bosman Family Vineyards is one of her top achievements so far. “I fully believe that South Africa’s premium wines live up to international quality standards. Our industry has a very bright future ahead, especially with all our innovative winemakers that continuously push the boundaries of winemaking.”
Lieza, in contrast, found a natural fit to winemaking from a very young age – her family has been living on the Merwida wine estate for seven generations. She agrees that the South African wine industry has the potential for greatness: “We need to focus on healthy, sustainable winegrowing, with the emphasis on social responsibility and ethical trade.” Lieza plans to complete her Cape Wine Master qualification in 2021 while working as facility manager in charge of the brand-new Huis te Merwede tasting room at Merwida. The story goes that the Van der Merwe family originated from the region of Dordrecht in the Netherlands where their ancestors owned a castle along the Merwede River. Huis te Merwede, also called Castle te Merwe, was a medieval castle built between 1307 and 1335. It is, in fact, one of the oldest castle ruins in the Netherlands, with only a 14th-century tower remaining. So, let us see how Lieza will be building this new castle in the future.
Megan van der Merwe, current winemaker and viticulturist at Beau Constantia, says that she is incredibly proud of receiving 94 points for her maiden vintage of the Pierre 2019 Sauvignon blanc-Semillon blend. “I aspire to achieve a fulfilling and meaningful career, with an unwavering pursuit for the ultimate balance when it comes to winemaking.” Megan believes that the South African wine industry should keep young minds at the centre of change to support transformation structures that strive to serve the greater purpose of our young democracy. She believes collaboration and consolidation are the keys to success. Her advice to young students is to start working on their career the sooner the better and not to allow people to intimidate them.
Delaille Raubenheimer and Nina Keyser recall fond memories of bumping into friends as they walked to class beneath the green canopy of the trees lining Victoria Street. Johannesburg-born Delaille says that it was pure happenstance that she met Prof Wessel du Toit who introduced her to the BSc Viticulture and Oenology. With three local and four international harvests under her belt, it is no wonder that she has rooted her passion in the international wine world. Delaille is currently working for a United Kingdom-based wine marketing and public relations agency and has plans to complete her Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Diploma. Nina grew up in Somerset West and knew from a young age that she would have a career in wine.
With a very keen eye and passion for the power of social media, Nina has created her own wine-inspired travel blog ‘Wine and Wonderlust’ in which she highlights the networking, marketing and learning potential of an active online presence. “I believe it is crucial to combine other subjects and knowledge fields to further your career and with a bit of passion and hard work you can easily make wine your passport to the world.” When it comes to pet peeves regarding wine tasting, Delaille and Nina both detest it when a wine is not served at the correct temperature, it is tantamount to arriving at a huisdans in your rugby shorts.
With a deeply rooted love for nature and a keen interest in the creative cultural aspects of wine, it is no wonder that Morgan Steyn found himself as a winemaker. “I see myself as nothing but a role model for others. I try to give back to the wine community where I can share my knowledge, time and talent,” says Morgan. He is currently making wine at De Grendel and also serves as a wine judge on various tasting panels. With a deep understanding of and love for South African wine, Morgan is committed to producing top-quality local wine.
Pretoria-born Karlin Nel relocated to the Western Cape when she was eight years old. She informed her parents at a very young age that someday she would be a winemaker. A few Varsity Cup games, wine excursions and international tastings later, and after some study and much trial and error, Karlin was appointed cellar master at Vrede en Lust wine estate, at the tender age of 26. “Your only way to success is through cultivating your passions and understanding from an early age that working with others is the best way to achieve your goals.”
We can rest easy knowing that the South African wine industry is in the very capable hands of beloved Matie alumni. Passion, hard work, innovation and humility are the hallmark of our Maties working in the wine industry, and with these young individuals at the helm of such a key SA industry, we can be assured of reaching the upper echelons of the global wine arena soon. “Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, makes weariness forget his toil,” wrote the English poet Lord Byron. Well, cheers to the young, the Matie under 30 winemakers conquering the world of wine!
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