We talk all things South Africa with Wildeberg's Head Winemaker.
Born into a winemaking family, JD’s credentials extend beyond his years with his Mother helping with pressings and punch downs in the family winery while pregnant with him. Having grown up helping his Father in their Paarl winery, he solidified his experience with a degree in Winemaking from Stellenbosch University. But JD didn’t just fall into winemaking by chance; he has a real passion and drive for it:
“I get bored very easily, but with winemaking every day is different, every year is different. Wine is a live product, it’s not like making [a soft drink] and just opening a tap; there’s a lot of thought in it, planning in it and blending in it. I love creating wine. You have to be an artisan…every year you start over and one day is different to the next”.
After over a decade of winemaking, JD Rossouw joined Boutinot in 2017 as Estate Manager and Winemaker at Wildeberg and has been integral to the site’s development from an empty field and farmhouse, to vineyards and winery:
“It’s a dream to be a part of the beginnings of Wildeberg. It’s truly a wild and magical place. Surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountains, it has the highest rainfall in South Africa (2m per ‘normal’ year), a lot of fynbos, small birds, baboons running around, puff adders (you need to watch where you’re stepping!), spiders and crazy weather. It’s so close to nature and if you stay here, you can feel the beauty of nature all around you.”
Does working in such an amazing setting help to inspire him?
“I find honest, down-to-earth people inspiring, but Wildeberg is amazing. It’s an inspiring place and the love for nature and the wildness definitely comes through in the wines.”
Having worked vintages all over the world, JD settled back home in South Africa about nine years ago. It’s clear this country is where he likes to make wine, but is there a particular variety that he likes to work with?
“There’s so much you can do with Chenin, from sparkling through to sweet dessert wine, wooded or unwooded. Shiraz will give you totally different flavours depending on where you plant it; closer to the coast in cooler areas it gives you spice and cinnamon flavours whilst towards the hotter climates you get extracted plum and blackberry flavour. The diversity of the two varietals is excellent.”
South Africa’s water crisis and the on-going drought has made headline news all over the world. In winemaking terms, the result has been a shift in focus towards drought-resistant cultivars and the planting of Mediterranean varietals. How has this affected Boutinot South Africa’s projects?
“This sounds crazy given [that] countries such as France have been doing this forever, however, [the] team’s determination to focus on [where different varieties] work best over the past 5 years has really paid off. The Capeography range really showcases this; the Sauvignon Blanc from Elgin or Grenache Blanc from dryland vines of Swartland are fantastic wines that highlight [the importance of choosing] what to plant where, and not planting just what you want to make.”
We recently launched the South African ‘umbrella’ range Strange Kompanjie Unlimited, which will be made up entirely of wines bottled in South Africa, something that JD feels very strongly about. What are the benefits to bottling the wine in South Africa?
“There’s such a huge benefit [to] quality. Bottling at source means less oxygen uptake…and just better-quality wine in the bottle. It’s always going to taste better when bottled at source. There’s also a big benefit to the South African economy; creating jobs, giving back to all the people that help make South African wine, that’s really important”.
Giving back to the community and keeping people at the heart of wine are very important to us. It’s wonderful to know this mindset is firmly represented in our South African home as well, and it’s safe to say that JD is definitely a people person:
“My colleagues are amazing. We’re all down to earth people that work great as a team. I look forward to working with them for the next 20 years!”
The feeling is mutual, JD!