30 Jan Q & A with our Chief Winemaker, Anthony de Jager
Recently, we sat down with our Chief Winemaker, Anthony de Jager, to ask him a few questions. Anthony joined Fairview as winemaker in December 1996. He has since partaken in many of Fairview’s pioneering endeavours. He was involved in the making of La Beryl straw wine, the first genuine straw wine in the country; in the first South African plantings of varieties like Mourvèdre, Tannat and Petite Sirah; in the rediscovery of old vine Grenache and Carignan; and in the evolution of the ‘red blend’, which saw trends shift from Cabernet and Merlot-lead blends to warm climate Shiraz-based Rhône style blends. Anthony is a passionate outdoorsman, which makes winemaking the perfect fit for him. In his free time he enjoys surfing and cycling.
- How has South Africa winemaking approach, especially at Fairview, changed in the last 5-10 years?
We (SA as a whole) are starting to benefit from an extensive replanting programme. We used to plant anything anywhere, but over the last 20 years the planting has been much more specific, with cultivar suited to terroir. These vines are now starting to reach middle age and the wines from them are more focussed and expressive.
We are also now seeing more fruit forward wines, as most of the old virus infected vines have been replaced. These new virus free plantings are also now more mature. Especially on our native grape – Pinotage.
- What is most exciting development today in the industry?
We are a mostly warm climate viticulture region. Some of the most exiting wines in our portfolio are the Mediterranean style wines (varietal or blended).
As these wines improve and the volume increases, SA (and FV) is ideally positioned to make these wines. The exciting red wines made from Shiraz/Grenache/Carignan/Cinsaut/Mourvedre and Tempranillo is growing. Also Viognier/Roussanne/Grenache Blanc on the whites. I feel this is the right way forward, suited to our climate. Our Rose Quartz is beautiful Rose made from Grenache/Caringnan/Cinsaut.
- What are the challenges?
Our biggest challenge currently, is the severe drought we are in and how to manage that..
Secondly, it is a huge job converting our consumer base to break the mould from going safety first with varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, to a bit more adventurous varieties (as previously mentioned) and wine styles.
- Fairview planted the first Viognier in South Africa, and you worked on the first vintages. How does this variety express itself in South Africa?
The FV style of Viognier is the more fruit forward style, with subtle oak and lovely freshness. The variety can often be flat and alcoholic (especially in a warmer climate), but we do multiple picking to capture some fruit early for freshness, some later for barrel and lees contact, with more mouthfeel. The original Viognier, planted in 1994, is now at its prime.
- What are the challenges and benefits of dryland viticulture?
Dryland viticulture is great when the soil has sufficient winter rain and has a good moisture retention to last the vines through the months of no rain and take the grapes to perfect ripeness. It gets rather tricky in a drought situation, as the grower needs to firstly protect the vines and crop is secondary. We therefore have to drastically reduce crop level to balance the vine with its environment. The wines are often super focussed, but in tiny quantity. As producer you don’t necessary see the price improvement that these low producing, super concentrated wines should realize!
- Fairview’s goats are world-famous and make some delicious cheese. What’s your go-to Fairview wine to match with goats’ cheese?
FV Goats milk cheese and Viognier or blends with Viognier – our Nurok white blend is a Chenin/Viognier/Roussanne/Grenache Blanc.
- What’s the next step for South African wine?
SA next step is to take our high quality wines and UP the price. We are seen as cheap and cheerful . This desperately needs to change for our industry to survive and thrive.