The last decade has seen a considerable shift in the planting and production of Pinot Noir in South Africa and international wine critics are taking note, heralding SA Pinot Noir as some of the finest and most evocative in the world. South Africa has much to celebrate on International Pinot Noir Day on 18 August.
According to British Master of Wine Tim Atkin, “the high quality of the best Cape Pinots is the single biggest achievement of the modern South African wine industry.” And UK based wine critic and author, Neal Martin, concurs: “South Africa produces some of the finest New World Pinot Noir. If I had to select a country that comes closest to achieving the heights of the Côte d’Or – and why not compare yourself with the apparent best – then it would probably be South Africa.”
Just in time for International Pinot Noir Day, we spoke to Jolette Steyn, Head of Fine Wine Sales at leading wine merchant winecellar.co.za about SA’s ladies of the grape making magic with this most captivating and complex of cultivars.
A: My love for travel, languages and the outdoors led me to study BSc and MSc in Oenology and Viticulture in SA and Europe. For about a decade, I was a full-time winemaker before I started in the ways of a wine merchant at Wine Cellar fine wine merchants. When I’m not tasting, selling or buying wines, I make wine under my own wine label, started in 2018. I love the energy and ingenuity of the people in the wine industry, and so cannot imagine myself anywhere else.
Q: What is it that you love most about Pinot Noir wines?
A: Pinot Noir is among the most ancient grape varieties. In its youth it offers up intense red fruited purity and a juicy acidity. As the wine ages, it gains in complexity, and develops savoury and earthy notes that elevates it to something otherworldly. Whilst it can be a fickle grape to grow and manage, it reflects its origins clearly and honestly. For this reason, the expression of Pinot Noir from Hemel-en-Aarde, Burgundy or California, is completely unique and cannot be made anywhere else. At its best, it marries elegance and finesse with great power and complexity. You can sit over a glass of Pinot noir for hours or even days and continue to find something new as it unfurls in the glass.
Q: It’s also Women’s Month this month! Please highlight the SA Pinot Noirs you most enjoy, made by woman winemakers?
A: Natasha Williams and Corlea Fourie of Bosman Wine; Jessica Saurwein of Saurwein; Nadia Newton Johnson of Newton Johnson and Catherine Marshall of Catherine Marshall Wines.
Q: What will you be drinking on International Pinot Noir Day this year?
A: Harmand-Geoffroy Gevrey-Chambertin 2017, Saurwein Om Pinot Noir 2019 and Champagne Drappier Brut Rose NV (made from 100% pinot noir).
Q: What does a day in the life of Jolette Steyn look like at Wine Cellar fine wine merchants?
A: My life is wine, wine, wine. There is never a dull moment, and it’s ever-evolving, so keeps me on my toes. I start the day early with coffee and exercise. In a perfect world I then read up on wine and investment news from across the globe before work starts; plan and write the wine offers from our imports portfolio and keep tabs on new shipments coming in. Interspersed with this, producers come and show their wines, we host or attend wine tastings, lunches or dinners, brainstorm new projects for Wine Cellar and fine-tune our service offering. Wine events often last into the evenings and so it is rarely an 8-5 job. I carve out time to check in on my own wines every other week or so (depending on the season). My English beau/my partner, Tom, also works in wine, so on weekends we often visit winemaker friends and their vineyards. When we are allowed to travel again, I will visit our suppliers abroad and taste their new vintages, which is massively exciting. Rinse and repeat.
About the wines & women winemakers
Wine Cellar fine wine merchantJolette Steyn’s choice of SA Pinot Noirs,by woman winemakers
- Natasha Williams and Corlea Fourie of Bosman Wine
Corlea completed a BSC. Agri in Oenology and Viticulture at Stellenbosch. She started consulting in 2006 and joined the team permanently in 2007. Corlea manages the vineyard potential into wine objectives for the Bosman Family Vineyards and De Bos brands.
Natasha completed her BSC Agri in Oenology Specified at Stellenbosch University in 2013. She joined the team in November 2014. Natasha has a keen eye for detail and manages the wine outcome for Bosman Family Vineyards cellar.
With one of the pre-eminent vine nurseries in the southern hemisphere and 3 different growing regions from which to cultivate their blends, the Bosman Family Vineyards have unrivalled access, knowledge, and expertise when it comes to crafting their wines. A strict selection process in the vineyard and the cellar means that only the top 5% of the total harvest is used for production. While historic vines offer distinct vintages, a thriving vine garden allows for constant innovation and the perfect blend of old and new.
- Jessica Saurwein of Saurwein
Saurwein is Jessica Saurwein’s family surname. Steeped in the history of 17th-century winemaking, her forefathers made “sour” wine for the Emperor of Austria. It became her vocation to redeem her family’s reputation in wine and so after a gap year working locally and internationally in vineyards, she completed a BSc Oenology and Viticulture degree at Stellenbosch University, South Africa.
Opportunities then led her into the world of Sales and Marketing at first, while she worked in the cellar each year during harvest-time both locally and internationally. She found her way back to making wine by starting her own production part-time in 2015. When she had a baby in October 2017 she resigned from her job to become a mother and full-time winemaker for her own brand Saurwein Wines. Today she focusses on handcrafting her two favourite cultivars, Pinot noir and Riesling, and makes three wines under the Saurwein brand name, two Pinot noirs and one Riesling.
“It is my aim to achieve energy and harmony simultaneously in the wines. The “hands-off” winemaking approach allows me to be guided by the natural balance of the grapes. For this, grape quality is imperative. I am fortunate to receive grapes from three unique vineyard sites. One is located on the foot slopes of the majestic Elandskloof mountains in the charming and picturesque Elandskloof Valley at 700 m above sea level (Nom Pinot noir). The other Pinot noir vineyard is located in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge region, near Hermanus (Om Pinot noir). This is one of South Africa’s finest terroirs. The Chi Riesling vineyard is located in the fertile Elgin Valley, which offers ideal conditions for growing this energetic cool-loving, cultivar. Each vineyard is allowed to express itself to its fullest potential by enabling the naturally occurring yeast on the fruit to ferment the grapes. Overall the grapes are worked very gently if at all and the use of cooling of the must and ferments where needed enables the wines to be an optimal and most complex expression of all nuances of the terroir.” – Jessica Saurwein
- Nadia Newton Johnson of Newton Johnson
Gordon and Nadia Newton Johnson are the husband-and-wife winemaking team with experience of over 30 vintages between them. Growing up around some of the Cape’s leading edge winemakers as family friends, Gordon was immersed in the culture but only followed it closely after university. Having finished an economics degree his more artistic leanings led him to explore wine as a creative medium. Having been hooked he was largely self-taught before taking over the reins of winemaking at Newton Johnson in 1999.
In 2004 Gordon and Nadia met during the harvest in the Hemel-en-Aarde. Nadia, herself the 6th generation of wine growers near Robertson, having previously earned a degree in Oenology & Viticulture at Stellenbosch and eventually joined as winemaker after two years in the Constantia Valley. They test and play out each other’s ideas with minute detail for improvement. They adore the classics and taste as much of Burgundy as they can lay their hands on.
- Catherine Marshall of Catherine Marshall Wines
Catherine graduated from Elsenburg in 1991. Apprenticeships at various local cellars interspersed with international experiences in France (Burgundy and St-Emilion- Bordeaux), USA ( California and Oregon) and Australia. Resident winemaking positions followed at four wineries in Stellenbosch and Paarl before embarking on a solo career in 2007 establishing and running the wine business. At this time, she was instrumental in formalising the Garagiste Movement which has gone on to become very successful in South Africa. Although she no longer actively participates, she has been inducted as an honorary member.
As Cellar master at various wineries, she has garnered many local and international awards, including 5 star Platter Wine Guide and Tim Atkinh (MW) accolades for her Pinot Noir. The total commitment to detail and the hands-on approach in vineyards and wine production are evident in the unique character of Cathy’s range. In addition to a full wine schedule, Cathy enjoys mountain hiking ( Base camp Everest in Tibet and the Annapurna in Nepal being some of her highlights), mountain biking, gardening with herbs and fynbos, exotic travel, tennis and entertaining friends and family.
“When we started on our wine journey from humble origins in 1997, we have always held the view that our intention is to produce a range of unique wines of excellence and, above all, to have fun doing it. As custodians of such an ancient craft, a balanced, holistic, creative and respectful approach reflects harmony and character in our wines.” Cathy Marshall
All wines are available via Wine Cellar fine wine merchants