1) When did you first become interested in becoming a winemaker?
I come from a family with a great appreciation for wine. I always loved the lifestyle surrounding wine and worked in wine bars and wine-centric restaurants while studying and travelling the world. For some reason, I’d never thought that becoming a winemaker myself was a possibility for me: I was a young English female fashion design graduate, and the world of agriculture seemed so inaccessible. However, I had a strong urge to continue studying, and when flipping through the Stellenbosch University prospectus, the winemaking course was clearly up my street: I adore maths and chemistry and geology. I started the degree with short notice and never looked back!
2) What is your most memorable wine or wine-tasting experience?
In 2016 the CWG arranged a tasting of the iconic Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s 2009 Grand Crus presented by Aubert de Villaine himself. I was studying at the time and worked as a waitress that evening. Thanks to the generosity of industry members, I managed to taste the wines and any skepticism that I had held about how good such expensive wines could really be was lost instantly. The wines were so seamless, so expressive and so unique to each site. It showed me the real value of nuance and decades of refinement. The commitment to constant evolution towards better quality and purity was so inspiring.
3) What do you enjoy best about being a winemaker at Cavalli Wines?
The biggest perk of working at Cavalli is having the vineyards on my very doorstep. I feel such a closeness to our product and it helps greatly in the cellar when I need to determine which practices will offer the purest expression of our terroir. It also doesn’t hurt that the estate is absolutely spectacular and the wildlife keeps us entertained daily!
4) What are the fundamentals of your winemaking approach?
When we were under pressure in the cellar, my first boss always asked me: “What’s Rule no.1?” and the explicit answer was always “Don’t stuff it up!”. This advice has stuck with me: the first step is to not make any basic errors that may negatively affect quality. It’s a primitive and inflexible concept but so important, and it’s great for getting cellar hands on board with a “quality first and foremost” philosophy. Beyond that, it’s all about refinement and respecting the purity of the grapes.
5) What are your personal winemaking goals?
I will always aim to better my knowledge, especially viticulturally, with a view to making perfectly balanced wines with minimal intervention. I’d also like to play a role in developing a local brand to become internationally relevant. I hope to see South African wine overcome its association with bulk wine/low quality that plagues it on the international market within my lifetime. It would be immensely satisfying to play a role in that evolution.
6) What is your favourite food and wine pairing?
My absolute favourite way to relax is to sit outside on my deck with a good bottle of wine and a salty snack. A spice-driven Shiraz with some good quality salami is so simple but hard to beat. Otherwise I’m into homemade dim sum with a great South African Chardonnay at the moment.
7) What has surprised you about being a winemaker?
It was the love of the product and the scientific side of wine that first attracted me to the industry, but what has surprised me is just how human-centric the job is. A cheap fortune teller in the south of France once told me that I would spend my career managing people, and I thought “Rubbish!”. How wrong I was! We spend an inordinate amount of time with our colleagues (Eric the Assistant Winemaker bemoans the fact that he sees far more of me than his own fiancé!) and it’s so important to build teams that get along and maintain their happiness. For parts of the year we are under immense pressure and the fact that we are slaves to nature’s whims means that no week is predictable. Staff need to be trustworthy and enthusiastic and this takes a lot of input from a management side. That is perhaps the part of my role that surprised me the most.
8) What do you find to be the hardest part of harvest?
I’m cursed with requiring a minimum of 7 hours sleep to feel “normal”, so the tiredness is probably my least favourite part of harvest. But with good planning it’s not a problem. My more major problem is knowing when to call it a night at mid-harvest parties!