More winemakers on the merry-go-round

If there must be winemaker changes, best that they happen in winter – at least there’s a chance of a new person settling in before the next harvest starts rolling in. At the centre of some (though not all) of the latest intriguing and important winemaker moves is Boekenhoutskloof.

And anything that happens at this great Franschhoek producer must be important – it is not only undoubtedly one of the very finest of the Cape wine estates but generally one of the most successful in all sorts of ways. In little more than a decade it has grown dramatically but always intelligently and with great marketing-savvy, adding the hugely successful Porcupine Ridge and Wolftrap labels as well as expanding the home range with such prime sellers as Chocolate Block, while building a reputation for unexceeded excellence at the top. This all with founder-winemaker Marc Kent at the dynamic origin – sharing that force, no doubt, with Tim Rands of Vinimark, a joint owner, and one of the most important figures in the modern Cape wine industry, albeit an unshowy and often underestimated one. (That’s Marc in the pic, posing on the winery patio with a British visitor a few years back.)

Anyway, Boekenhoutskloof and Vinimark are on the move again. Rudiger Gretschel, who has been sharing with Kent responsibility for the Boekenhoutskloof wines, has moved to a reportedly very fancy Vinimark office, from where he will take substantial responsibility for overseeing production in the properties where Vinimark is deeply involved: Robertson Winery, Krone and Reyneke, as well as the Boekenhoutskloof labels. But apparently Rudiger is determined to keep his hands at least a little bit dirty, and will become more involved at biodynamic Reyneke – where emerging Swartland stars Chris and Andrea Mullineux are at present contracted to make the wines (for an account of their plans and progress in the Riebeek mountains, watch this space).

So, back at Boekenhoutskloof, to fill the Gretschel shoes and adding to the team are two newcomers: Jean Smit had assisted there before, but recently left for Elgin to become Iona’s first permanent winemaker. It is unlikely that Iona’s owner Andrew Gunn will have been delighted to learn that Jean has been lured back to Franschhoek. They’re flocking there from all over, in fact: from Darling Cellars comes Johan Nesenberend (to be replaced there by Carel Hugo).

But there’s expansion as well as replacement: Boekenhoutskloof has bought Schonenberg, a new (and struggling) winery on the Porseleinberg of the southern Swartland – the vineyard source, incidentally, for an important shiraz component of Eben Sadie’s Columella. Schonenberg has produced a few vintages of perhaps quirky but very interesting wines under their own label – which Boekenhoutskloof has not acquired along with the real estate. Perhaps the new owners will at some stage do something with the primitive little cellar there, but meanwhile it will be the spiritual  headquarters, perhaps, of Callie Louw, a man with a deep love of viticulture who will no doubt deepen and improve the farm’s orientation to (certified) organic and (arguably certifiable) biodynamic production.

Callie Louw is moving from Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, where, as successor to the aforementioned Chris Mullineux, he had been only a short while since leaving a near-Swartland winery, Vondeling. No word yet as to what is happening at TMV – its owners are British bankers, which is leading to some worried rumours in this time of financial collapse.

That’s about it as far as the ramifications of Boekenhoutskloof adventuring go – but the problems of a Swartland winery amidst economic woes are relevant to winemaking moves too, unfortunately. That large and ever-improving place on the Perdeberg, Lammershoek, is relinquishing their fine winemaker Albert Ahrens; for the time being, owners Paul and Anna Kretzel will be relying on part-time assistance in the cellar. (Incidentally, the Lammershoek Syrah 2007 which I tasted recently, must be, at around R120, one of the great Cape wine bargains of the moment: an excellent wine; I hope it works as a compelling advertisement for its winemaker’s skills as well as for its terroir.)

Meanwhile, far from the rough excitement of the Swartland, in the heartland of aristocratic and wealthy Stellenbosch, Morgenster’s excellent and subtle winemaker, Marius Lategan, has decided on the need for a mid-life change and is taking up larger responsibilities at La Bri in Franschhoek. Where he’ll no doubt be brushing up usefully against the growing team at Boekenhoutskloof.

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