‘Girly girl’ dreams of making that special, signature wine

Faces of Summer Bellingham

Every amateur winemaker makes at least one mistake that has such disastrous consequences that it makes their lives flash by before their eyes, says Arlene Mains, assistant winemaker at Bellingham.

For her it was when she was an intern and standing above a fermenting wine tank that started bubbling and frothing as if it was alive, all because she had added the yeast nutrients way too fast. Luckily not too much of the precious wine was spilled.

Mains has amassed an impressive CV in her relatively short career. She has worked at some of the most famous wineries in the world, including Opus One in the Napa Valley, USA and Chateaux Mouton-Rothschild in Pauillac, France, where she learned about positioning wine as a luxury product and precision winemaking.

Today she is featured in our “21 Faces of Summer”!

Arlene, tell us, how did you get started in wine?

Growing up I never once thought I would become a winemaker. I was always a girly girl with my nose in my books. Looking back, I think Stellenbosch made me want to become a winemaker. The place has a great romanticism about it, from the bustling months with students sprawling the place, to the more reserved months of older tourists lapping up its beauty when the students are on university break, and not to mention the natural splendour which it encompasses. When I started at university I enrolled to do a BSc in microbiology and biotechnology, whilst in the process of completing my degree I changed direction to winemaking, thereafter I completed my MSc Wine Biotechnology with a focus on natural fermentations.

What has surprised you about being a winemaker?

Winemakers have to be incredibly dynamic. The theoretical knowledge definitely stands you in good stead. However with the day to day operations and the practical side of winemaking, you’ll find that many winemakers know a lot more about the ins and outs of their equipment. All of us at one stage or the other has had to fix a pipe, pump, machine, etc. sometime during harvest.  

What goals in winemaking are you working to achieve?

I would like to make that one exceptional wine that everybody loves as much as I do.

In the world of wine, who do you most admire and why? Who influenced you?

I’ve been very lucky to have mentors guiding me through my wine journey. Naturally there are those who have influenced me more than others, however I don’t think that I would be the winemaker I am without all tremendous knowledge that has been imparted to me at every step of the way.

What is your favourite wine?

Undeniably MCC or champagne!

What stands out for you when you taste a particularly great wine?

Balance! To me when a wine is great everything about it is in perfect harmony.

Do you have any “guilty pleasures” when it comes to wine?

Perhaps not so much a guilty pleasure, but I absolutely enjoy a large salted bowl of popcorn with a “don’t share this bottle of red wine” (because it’s just so good)!

Do you have a funny story to share about your winemaking journey?

I would like to think that every amateur winemaker or intern has that one experience where saw your life flashing before you. These are often experienced during harvest, when you are exhausted from a long day, ravenous and the thought of just sitting down for five minutes seems like a gift from the gods.

Anyway, it was the last task of the day before I knocked off from work and the winemaker had asked me to give nutrition to a fermenting tank. Her words were very precise, “add the nutrients very slowly”. When I got to the tank I started adding the nutrients very slowly, not bearing the context in mind and the fact that I had to add 5kg to a large tank. When I started slowly adding the nutrients nothing happened, so in an attempt to move things along, I started adding it a bit faster. Still nothing happened. After about five seconds I could hear how the tank became “ALIVE”! This was the moment my life flashed before my eyes! There was wine everywhere and it wouldn’t stop, it just kept on rumbling out of the tank. Luckily it was mostly foam and not wine, but needless to say I learnt a very important lesson.

More about Bellingham Wines

The Bellingham story started in 1693 with the first 1 000 vines planted on the estate, then known as Bellinchamp (“pretty fields”). It then passed from family to family until 1943, when Bernard and Fredagh Podlashuk purchased the somewhat derelict farm, set about restoring the manor house, gardens and vineyards and effectively pioneered the modern renaissance of the Bellingham Estate in Franschhoek.

Today, while still inspired by its history of innovation, ingenuity and foresight, Bellingham is firmly set in the 21st century, producing contemporary, structured wines with an unmistakable sense of place and style.

Old Vine Chenin Blanc

The grapes for this distinctive Chenin Blanc are hand-picked from characterful and genuinely unique old bush vines specifically blended from Cape Town. It features vibrant tropical fruit flavours with hints of honey and oak spice on the finish. On the nose you get hints of straw, pineapple, stone fruit, green apple, ripe lime, tropical fruit, and oak spice.

This wonderful Old Vine Chenin is currently on offer for R1,410.00 per case of six bottles (R235 per unit).

Small Barrell SMV

An intricate blend led by Shiraz, with Mourvèdre and Viognier. Originating from selected Coastal Paarl Region vineyards, this wine features alluring black and red fruit on the nose and palate, layered with dark chocolate, winter spice, rose and violet. An intricate and intensely fruited palate that is both powerful and graceful brings this palate a long, full finish of good length and complexity.

A great food wine that will match a variety of dishes including rosemary roasted lamb, chargrilled beef steaks, spicy sausages or tomato-based vegetable ragout. Buy a case of 6 bottles for R2,280.00 (R380 per unit).

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