Winemaker

Winemaker

Q & A WITH OUR WINEMAKER

With another harvest behind us and the grapes safely in the cellar, our winemaker Jan van Rooyen shares some of his thoughts for the future in a Q & A session.

  1. Tell us a little bit about the vineyards and progress there?

I’m really happy with the work we’re doing on our Pinot Noir vineyards as they are planted on a great south-facing slope closest to the sea, which just screams quality.  I also personally love Pinot Noir, so it is a treat to work with these grapes.

The small block of Petit Verdot (1 ha) is destined to become an integral part of our flagship Bordeaux-style blend, the Baccarat for which I always strive to get the best grapes possible.  Basically the better this grape is, the better our blends will be. 

This brings me to our “bread-and-butter” line, the Cabernet/Merlot, which will eventually possibly  feature a little “injection” of Shiraz to add some complexity.   Although you don’t want to mess with a winning recipe, one can always improve!

The Viognier has been coming along for about three years now and it’s already playing a positive albeit tiny role in some of the whites eg the Luna de Miel Chardonnay Reserve and the Sarabande Sauvignon Blanc Reserve.  Further evolution could include the use of Viognier in our top reds as well.

  1. I believe there’s a new dessert wine in the offing?

One of the exciting new products planned for this year is the Natural Sweet Viognier which will be released under the Above Royalty label.  We were lucky enough to bring in a wonderfully healthy ripe Viognier for the 2017 vintage and with our flexible approach to the dessert wine product line, we would bottle it as a natural dessert wine to replace the current fortified Liqueur Wine which is nearly sold out.

  1. You are phasing in the new Estate labels. How do you feel about them?

The new packaging with its distinctive diamond shape is simple and modern and suits the wines we’re planning to make this year and over the next few years.  The label has been received very well in trade and we love the elegance and clarity of the design. 

  1. Update us on the progress made with the Pinot Noir Chardonnay Blend.

From its inception as the Vintner’s Blend, this wine has been a winner.  Three years ago we decided to include it in the Estate range and add some quality elements to it, which has paid off.  This is an exciting wine to work with as it’s evolving all the time, and it’s great to see wine consumers enjoying it too.  The signature has been established and it’s coming more and more into its own with every new vintage.

  1. Avontuur is doing a lot of work to promote Cabernet Franc amongst wine lovers. What is your take on this varietal?

I am proud to announce that we have now been making a single varietal Cabernet Franc at Avontuur for 21 years!   The first one was produced in 1996 and was mentioned in the 1998 Platter’s.  Our 2014 is being released and it’s a fruity wine with fine tannins, elegance and that typical “fynbos” character always prevalent in our Cab Francs.  This year sees the third Cab Franc Carnival sponsored by Avontuur Estate and it’s growing every year, although we do try to keep it niche and upmarket to suit our farm and intimate family-orientated approach.

  1. Pinotage is our “national” grape. What do you think about the Avontuur version?

With new plantings coming nicely into their own our Pinotage is a quality product with a loyal fan club who support it throughout.  I would love to “play” a bit with the style as the diversity of Pinotage is becoming quite a driver in the category and the grape lends itself to experimentation, always keeping to our Estate positioning though.

REFLECTIONS OF A WINEMAKER(January 2015)

Five  years into his tenure at family-owned Avontuur   Wine Estate, situated in the prime winegrowing area of the Helderberg between Stellenbosch and Somerset West, winemaker Jan van Rooyen looks back at his time on the farm with mixed emotions  and many plans for the future.

“It feels like yesterday that I arrived, but we’ve achieved so much,” he says.   “I’m especially satisfied with the way we’ve slotted the different products into the ranges and highlighted the speciality products.  We’ve stabilised the 10 year old pot-stilled brandy’s taste profile and updated the packaging, released a gorgeous new Brut Rose and  introduced the Above Royalty Liqueur Wine which is a dessert wine, fortified with our own brandy.”

“ We’ve given much more attention to the premiere range and have won a serious amount of awards with these wines, all of which show in the increased sales of this range. We’ve updated and upgraded the popular Pinot Noir/Chardonnay which now fits into the Estate range and is as yummy as ever.”

Avontuur Pinot-Chard 2014 styled (411x640)

“Judging by what I saw in the vineyards, we’re looking at a very adequate crop with healthy vineyards and no fungal diseases.  I’m really looking   forward to the next three  months  which is always exciting for all personnel from the vineyards right through to the cellar’” he says.

JAN VAN ROOYEN:  AN INTRODUCTION

Jan van Rooyen with nearly two decades’ worth of winemaking experience is Avontuur Estate’s winemaker.  Although starting officially on the 3rd of January 2011, Jan had helped out during the latter part of 2010, which made it easier for him to get into the swing of things and after three years with the Estate, is starting to make his mark.

When asked about his objectives for the wines,  he cagily said that he has a 10 year plan, but would love to build on the foundation laid by his predecessors and  improve on the quality of the premier range wines, especially the Chardonnay.   He plans to concentrate on producing great Reds from this farm’s  incredible Helderberg terroir and have fun with the bubbly, the brandies and the noble late harvest.

To get to know Jan a bit better and find out more about his plans for the winery, we asked him a few questions:

1.    WHICH WAS THE FIRST WINE THAT MADE ANY SENSE?

In 1993 whilst working at the Department of Agriculture, I organized tastings for some of my colleagues and discovered a 1973 bottle of French Sauvignon Blanc in a dusty storeroom.  For a laugh, I decided to include it in the line-up, but great was my surprise and pleasure, when it turned out to be fantastic!  That really made me think about what I wanted from my winemaking career.

2.    TELL US ABOUT YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT WITH WINE

I was in my first year of study at Stellenbosch University and was included in a tasting with my professor and senior students where we had to score the wines.  I decided – in my “wisdom” – that a Nederberg Edelkeur was only worth 11 points, to the absolute shock and derision of the co-tasters!  As my prof said drily:  “Well he’s honest at least, but has a long way to go….”  Years later when my own noble late harvest achieved double gold at Veritas, I thought: “Yes prof, and eventually I got there!”

3.    MY BEST FOOD & WINE EXPERIENCE WAS….

I am a huge bubbly fan and in my 4th year at varsity Mo?t & Chandon launched a dessert-style bubbly in the most beautiful, mini-packaging.  I immediately decided to arrange a 100% bubbly-paired  meal and invited 4 friends.  Obviously I had to fork out for the Mo?t, but everyone else also  brought samples of the best they could afford. I cooked my heart out and we had bubbly from the welcome drink right through to the dessert which culminated with my exclusive Mo?t!  I believed then and still do, that bubbly should not only be kept for special occasions or celebrations, and this meal proved my point.

4.     IF YOU WERE NOT MAKING WINE, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?

I read fiction, listen to a wide spectrum of music from contemporary through to jazz and opera and when I’m on holiday at the beach, love foraging for fresh mussels off the rocks.  Hobbies which I wish I had more time for, include fly fishing and golf.

5.    MY LAST GLASS OF WINE WOULD BE…

… a tiny, but perfect crystal glass filled to the brim of the world’s most famous noble late harvest dessert wine, Chateau D’Yquem.  I’d rather wave farewell to the world with a gorgeous sweet mouthful than anything else!

Listen to a radio interview with Jan on FMR

Winemaker Jan van Rooyen was interviewed about everything “Avontuur” by well-known foodie and wine expert Michael Olivier on Fine Music Radio. Listen to his interview here…