At first glance, it seems an unlikely jump. How would a proof-reader, originally from Klerksdorp in the north of the country wind up as winemaker for the Cape’s most decorated cellar?
Ask Zinaschke Steyn (33), who’s just been appointed as the new red-winemaker at Nederburg Wines made that exact jump.
Actually, her journey is not that improbable when you look at it closely. She might have begun as a proof-reader for a printing works in Worcester, Western Cape, but that was just after matriculating in 2005. The move south was part of a longer plan, after setting her heart on a BSc in chemical engineering at Stellenbosch University because she wanted to be a brandy-maker.
But then, as it tends to do, life intervened.
“After close to two years in the Cape, it seemed to me that winemaking would be better suited to my personality,” Zinaschke explains. “I like to get my hands dirty and be physically involved from the get-go, as opposed to starting with wine that is to be distilled,” she says, referring to the process of brandy making.
“I’d be working more closely with the elements and have to tackle each vintage as an entirely new project. It’s the anticipation of new challenges, new parameters and new responses every year – that state of flux – that appeals to me.”
So, in 2007 she met up with Willie van Zijl at Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute in Stellenbosch, and the rest is history.
After graduating in 2010 with a BAgric degree in winemaking and viticulture from Elsenburg, she went to make wine for Overhex Private Cellar, then the KWV and GlenWood Vineyards.
In 2018, she was offered the job as assistant red-winemaker at Nederburg, thrilled to work for an internationally renowned cellar trading in markets on every continent. “The exposure to what makes all these winelovers tick and what makes them choose Nederburg, seemed too appetising to walk away from,” she says.
She succeeds Samuel Viljoen, who now heads Nederburg’s entire cellar.
“I’m amped for the new challenges but very aware I have big boots to fill. Backed by Samuel, who has mentored me for over two years, I feel I’m ready. I’m also grateful to my team at the cellar, and look forward to continue working hand-in-hand with them. They’re all an indispensable part of my winemaking journey at Nederburg.”
What makes her curious, hungry for new discoveries and the chance to keep on bettering her best efforts?
“Nederburg offers a wonderful environment to finesse the classics, to keep on enhancing our hero grape Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, but also to experiment with other, lesser-known grape varieties, new thinking and practices and to see how new technology can improve what we do. How lucky I am to be able to continually reflect and review and develop. It keeps me on my toes and able to grow.”
Her greatest inspiration is her mother. “She has taught me that I can do literally anything I set my mind to and that I should never let any situation break my spirit. And most importantly – to keep my head down and keep going but to look and learn on the way.”