Nederburg’s reputation as South Africa’s most awarded name in wine is no cause for complacency. A shared sentiment among their wine masters is that “curiosity is key to forever discovering new ways of doing things better”.
Today we chat to Jamie Williams, assistant white-wine maker from Nederburg Wines, the next winemaker featured on our “21 faces of summer” campaign. Yes, this summer we are celebrating the beauty of Mzansi wines, and we’re also introducing you to some of the exciting faces behind your fave wines.
Jamie, how did you get started in wine?
I grew up in a disadvantaged Cape Flats community where drug and alcohol abuse was rife, even so today. I really had no interest in becoming a winemaker as I so often witnessed the negative impact of alcohol abuse on those in my community. However, I always loved science, nature, art and creativity, but at the same time I didn’t really understand which career would offer me a good mix of these elements.
My family has a history of working on farms, either as seasonal workers or in wine tasting rooms. After matriculating in 2010, I was still unsure as to what I wanted to do, but it had to be focused on science, so I enrolled and obtained my BSc degree in molecular biology and biotechnology from Stellenbosch University.
It was during my studies that wine and winemaking became appealing to me. But it was too late to change course to study winemaking as my parents didn’t have the funds. So, I worked hard and did as many harvests as I could after my studies, including a harvest internship in Napa, California in 2016. The wine bug bit me and it’s not letting go anytime soon!
What a story! And what has surprised you most about being a winemaker?
Winemaking doesn’t involve only a winemaker, but rather an entire team of skilled individuals. Those in our cellar team play an enormous role in making the wine alongside the winemakers and assistants. They deserve as much recognition for their efforts.
Also, as a winemaker one needs to be able to handle the immense pressure that the harvest season throws at you. Mistakes can very easily be made, but avoided if you have a calm and clear mind.
What are your most memorable moments in this industry?
It is always great to see a wine that you had a role in making receive an award. However, what stands out is the enjoyment of the wine by consumers. When it comes to wine, it has always been about people coming together, socialising and connecting, making memories and sharing stories.
Are there any winemaking goals you still want to achieve?
I am working on obtaining my WSET levels 3 and 4, and one day hope to create a platform for people from underprivileged backgrounds to also start a career in the wine industry and create awareness regarding the safe and responsible consumption and enjoyment of alcohol.
In the world of wine, who do you most admire and why?
When I started my wine journey I worked alongside strong and knowledgeable winemakers such as Elunda Basson, Kristin Basson and Elmarie Botes (go female empowerment!). They truly set the premise for me as to the kind of winemaker I wanted to become. They have shared incredible wisdom with me, especially given the male dominance in the wine industry.
What is your favourite wine to pair with your favourite meal or snack?
A Chenin Blanc paired with pasta with a cream-based sauce always does the trick!
What has been the most challenging part about winemaking for you?
This year was a huge challenge for wineries and winemakers due to the covid-19 pandemic and the resulting ban on alcohol trading. But we’re a resilient bunch at Nederburg, and we’re working really hard to make up the losses.
The other challenge we as winemakers face every year is the annual wine grape harvest which calls for lots of energy and a flexible attitude, because so much of what we deal with during harvest is so often unexpected. Getting the cellar ready for harvest is also a very big task as we usually blend our premium wines around that time too, so there’s lots and lots of activity taking place in our cellar between November and April.
On the topic of premium wines, how do you know that you have a good vintage?
You can already tell if it will be a great vintage just by tasting the grape juice samples. The quality of grapes is very important as you cannot make good wine from poor quality grapes.
Do you have any “guilty pleasures” when it comes to wine?
I once paired a wooded Chenin Blanc with malva pudding and couldn’t get enough of it!
And your fondest wine memories?
I was involved in a harvest and we were working from 07:00 until 23:00 every day, except on Sundays. We were so exhausted, mentally and physically, and for three months couldn’t go out with friends or be social due to the demands of harvest. One day we all had our pumps running at the same time doing pump-overs in the cellar, creating an interesting musical beat. The entire team just started dancing and singing in a circle in the cellar to the beat of the pumps. It was hilarious!
More about Nederburg Wines
Nederburg is one of South Africa’s leading wineries with an award-winning pedigree that stems from a culture of innovation and disciplined attention to detail. And although they have an exquisite, and extensive range of fine wines, we still managed to pick our favourites from their Nederburg core range of varietal and blended wines:
Nederburg Chardonnay 2019
Chardonnay is a native of Burgundy in France where it was first recorded by Cisternian monks as far back as 1330.
This noble variety fares well in the South African winelands where it is made in a wide range of styles. Well-integrated oak adds complexity to this Chardonnay.
With a bouquet of understated typical citrus aromas that vie with stone fruit such as nectarine and white peach, and a lovely follow-through of Nectarine, quince, pear and citrus on the palate, this Chardonnay pairs perfectly with Thai and other Oriental dishes, as well as smoked salmon, grilled fish and dishes made with cream-based sauces. And, this exquisite wine is retailing for only around R80 per bottle, so what are you waiting for?
Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
This noble grape variety is planted extensively in Paarl where it produces wines with excellent colour and good tannins due to the favourable Mediterranean climate with its long, warm summers.
The viticulturist works hand-in-hand with the grape growers in managing each vineyard block to ensure the best quality fruit for this wine. The different microclimates and soil types associated with each vineyard add to the complexity of the wine.
Combining a bouquet of svelte red fruit aromas with black cherries, chocolate and a hint spice, this full-bodied wine with presents a strong palate of cocoa and black cherry, with creamy texture and a hint of exotic masala spice and peppercorn. Black Forest Gateau in a glass!
This refreshing and velvety Cabernet Sauvignon pairs excellently with braaied red meats and casseroles, venison, beef burgers, pizza and pasta dishes for only R100 a bottle. These wines are widely available in retail, as well as via www.nederburg.com.