It’s surely one of the most unexpected – and fascinating – winemaker moves in the Cape for a long time. Gottfried Mocke is leaving Chamonix, where he has been for nearly fifteen years, and moving in September to Boekenhoutskloof, where he is to fulfil a role that (as I understand it) is as yet without a job-title (chief winemaker, perhaps?), but basically involves being 2IC to Marc Kent and being responsible for making good things happen.
No-one is expected to leave Boekenhoutskloof, which is a large and complex operation with various own-farms and -wineries, as well as the Franschhoek home base. Supremo Marc Kent is currently billed as cellarmaster, indicating his level of responsibility, though his role in the day-to-day operations of the cellar has much reduced in recent years, easily so, given the sterling team of winemakers he has assembled. I once asked Tim Rands of Vinimark and also the largest shareholder in Boekenhoutskloof the brand (as opposed to the farm), what he particularly values in Marc Kent – the two have worked together very closely, creatively and profitably for many years now. Blending wines was one remarkable skill he mentioned – but, above all, it was Marc as a visionary.
Not for nothing does Gottfried describe his friend (and now boss!), Marc as his idol, and particularly look forward to working closely with him. And perhaps this is Marc Kent’s most visionary move yet, bringing in Gottfried as his second. “He is such an incredible winemaker”, he says, “and I can’t think of anyone better to come in and innovate and take us to a higher level.”
Because, be in no doubt, Kent’s ambitions and aspirations for Boekenhoutskloof go extremely high. He has to be aware that, despite the brand’s reputation for quality (in 2012 it was voted Top Winery in the country by the team of experts I got together), in a situation where improvement is happening all around, there has been some coasting (the ranking slipped to fourth place in 2014). He must be confident that, with all the resources at the successful and expanding brand’s disposal, grander achievements can be made (fruit now coming in for the Syrah from the Swartland Porseleinberg farm is just one of those resources).
On the other hand, the growth in reputation of Chamonix since Gottfried took over there is nothing short of remarkable: in a decade he took a decent farm, making a good chardonnay and sauvignon, and made it one of the Cape’s leading producers of a wide range of wines, including an unexpected handful of excellent reds. It was achieved, I believe, through his hard and creatively intelligent work in the Chamonix vineyards even more than his meticulous talents in the cellar. The combination, anyway, has earned him a reputation amongst his peers that I suspect is not easily matched in South Africa.
He leaves behind, in barrel and tank, the newly fermented 2015s: “some of the best wines I have made”, he says. I gather, incidentally, that there is not to be any search for a new cellarmaster at Chamonix, with Chris Helliger, the elderly owner, content to appoint the current assistant winemaker – there only a short time – as Gottfried’s successor at this major property. (One does wonder if Gottfried’s role at Chamonix is fully comprehended at all levels; and I doubt if real stability has yet been attained there; let’s hope, though, that a degree of doubt is not at all justified, and wish the new regime well in building on Chamonix’s successes.)
There have been those who have wondered in recent years if Gottfried would not choose to leave Chamonix and start his own-label – but certainly for the near future, I gather, this is likely to be limited to his Cape Winemakers Guild wine. Gottfried is a man without an intrusive ego – his modesty is as genuine as it is rare and attractive in his line of business, so perhaps this explains the lack of drive to see his name on labels.
“I just enjoy working with vines and wine”, he says. He admitted that he’s nervous about the challenges ahead – he hasn’t worked with a large team and a large range like this before (but, again, I expect that his friendly modesty, as well as the respect he inspires, will be a major help in any communication problems). But above all, of course, he’s excited. And we should also be excited perhaps – a Kent-Mocke partnership could be extraordinary.