As part of Food for Mzansi’s ongoing “21 faces of summer” we sit down and chat to the best winemakers in Mzansi in order to learn more about how they got to where they are, and what they still plan on for the future. Today we have the pleasure of introducing you to Ricardo Cloete from Durbanville Hills Winery.
We know yesterday’s presidential address may have gotten you feeling down in the dumps, but Cloete has shared a few entertaining stories about his life as a winemaker that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face!
So, Ricardo, tell us how you got started as a winemaker.
I grew up in the Northern Cape in a small town called Steinkopf. My interest in winemaking started during my high school years. Initially, it was between winemaking and engineering – but the passion of winemakers on television and in magazines at that time actually convinced me to follow this wonderful career. The thought that you grow grapes under specific conditions to reach a certain goal or style and have a product that consumers will appreciate and enjoy is amazing.
My passion for winemaking really started at Elsenburg Agricultural College where I did my B.Agric degree in cellar technology (viticulture and oenology) and then followed the much needed protégé programme at the Cape Winemakers Guild. I am currently working with the team at the well-known and award-winning Durbanville Hills winery.
Is being a winemaker as fun as it sounds?
Being a winemaker is really hard work and sometimes long hours. My initial impression – that winemakers receive a lot of money and that it’s quite a laid-back and relaxed job – wasn’t completely on the mark!
What are the most memorable goals that you have achieved in this industry?
My degree in viticulture and oenology and all the opportunities and experience that came after the degree have been my greatest achievements. Being a judge at the Young Wine Show and Veritas will also be one of my greatest achievements!
And I’m sure you’re not going to stop there… what other goals in winemaking are you still working to achieve?
My goal is to climb the ladder from assistant winemaker to winemaker and consistently make award-winning wines.
Do you have any mentors in the wine business?
Charles Hopkins at De Grendel Wine Estate – he is a real mentor and leader in the wine industry. An award-winning winemaker who likes to share his knowledge and reach out to other winemakers and young winemakers. He really wants to see people grow.
Do you have a favourite wine? And what meal do you like to pair it with?
Since I’m a fan of Pinotage, it will be The Durbanville Hills Collectors Reserve Promenade Pinotage 2017 with a braai – proudly South-African.
What has been the most challenging thing for you about winemaking year in and year out?
There are a lot of variables and factors that a winemaker need to keep in mind. Most challenging is that we need to work with what we get from our Mother Nature. Each year will be different, and we need to adjust and revise our plans accordingly.
That must require a lot of talent for noticing the small details! How can you tell that a grape will produce a good vintage?
Good vintage wines come from smaller, healthy berries, with beautiful colour, abundant aromas, complexity, concentration. These give body, structure, length and wonderful balance on the wines; when the aromas that you smell carry through on the palate and gives you layers of flavours that lingers on the palate.
Do you have any “guilty pleasures” when it comes to drinking wine?
Sometimes I get the question whether a person may add ice to his wine or not… and my answer is simple: As long as you enjoy the wine, why not?
Don’t get me wrong, you actually need to appreciate each and every beverage for what it is. I am a firm believer of that. But on the other hand, I don’t want to make wine complicated to people out there.
As for my personal “guilty pleasure” – I hate it to drink wine that I opened the previous day and also don’t want to waste wine, so…
Tell us a funny story or memory that you want to share about wine making or wine tasting.
First one… I grew up in a family with limited to no wine knowledge. And high years ago, I gave my brother a decent bottle of Dry Pinotage Rosé. He opened it and tasted the wine, looked at me and said, “But this is not Rosé!”
I asked him why he said that and he told me that it’s not sweet. So, at that stage only Four Cousins sweet Rosé was actual Rosé for him!
And then the second thing I’d like to share: in wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.
In a number of carefully controlled trials, scientists have demonstrated that if we drink 1 litre of water each day, at the end of the year we would have absorbed more than 1 kilo of Escherichia coli, (E. Coli) – bacteria found in feces. In other words, we are consuming 1 kilo of poop annually.
However, we do NOT run that risk when drinking wine & beer (or rum, whiskey or other liquor) because alcohol has to go through a purification process of boiling, filtering and fermenting.
So, I’d like to leave you with this to remember: water = poop, but wine = health.
More about Durbanville Hills Wine
The Durbanville Hills winery was designed and built with only one objective in mind: to make top-quality wine from top-quality grapes. Their cellar is an ultramodern facility that can compare with the world’s best. So of course, it isn’t hard to believe that they have won numerous awards over the years with their excellent wine! Here are a few of our favourite picks that we think you’ll enjoy this December:
The grapes for this wine were chosen for the exceptional structure and flavour the grapes impart to the wine. The soil moisture levels of this particular vineyard ensured small berries with an excellent skin-to-fruit ratio providing an intense colour and flavour spectrum.
With aromas of fresh strawberries, Turkish delight, rose petals, pomegranate and nectarines, and the taste of ripe, sweet berry and peaches followed by a delightful lingering sweet aftertaste, this is one of our favourite wines to enjoy on a hot summer’s day.
We like to enjoy this wine on its own or served with pistachio nougat, salads, light chicken dishes and seared tuna.
It’s hard to choose our favourite because this medium to full-bodied wine gives the most wonderful taste of fleshy ripe peaches, lime, citrus and zest with a lingering and refreshing aftertaste. And you’ll want to wear the delightful aromas of citrus, peaches, apricots, sweet melon and mixed fruit as a perfume when you smell this sparkling wine.
Serving suggestion is to pair it slightly chilled with mixed berries and cream, fresh oysters, smoked salmon or sushi.