Riaan Smit – Life as a Student in Wine-making

“Tasting is the key to your success. You cannot make great wine if you don’t know how it tastes.” Marc Kent, Boekenhoutskloof ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ at a Rhone tasting for Elsenburg wine making students.

My formal wine studies at Elsenburg are over. Three years have come and gone in no time. It has been a fascinating journey ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ especially this year. I am leaving here with a great tool kit, but the hardest challenge lies ahead: How to develop the tools out there in the industry.

It will take somebody to think rather laterally to hire a 47-year-old as an assistant winemaker. (Somebody will be sorry if they don’t!) I will at least work the 2012 harvest and hope to join Wilhelm Pienaar and Tariro Masayiti at Nederburg.

Few people will deny that the training of winemakers at Elsenburg has drifted during the last number of years. But our wine “Professor”, Bertus Fourie, who arrived in September 2010, have caused quite an upheaval ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ to put it mildly.

The School made sure that Class of 2011 enters an industry – where jobs are currently as scares as GS 1966 Cabernet Sauvignon – with some sublime tasting experiences of wines from all over the world ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ more than R70 000 worth of wine.

It was a humbling, but also a hugely inspiring experience ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ South African wine is but a small part of a huge wine world out there.

The tastings were presented, by Marc Kent, Peter Finlayson (Bouchard Finlayson), Gerald Ludwinski (Cape WM), Teddy Hall (Teddy Hall Wines), Andy Roediger (Cape WM), Caroline Rillema (Caroline’s Fine Wine), Riani Strydom (Haskell), and Bertus Fourie.

All of the tasting presenters also brought wines along from their own cellars.

We tasted our way through Italy, Spain, Burgundy, Rhone, Bordeaux, Germany, Australia, Chile, Argentina, and California ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ a count of my tasting notes show 97 wines.

Some of the iconic wines tasted were: Antinori Solaia 2006, Penfolds Grange 2000, Chateau de Beaucastel 2004, Cheval Blanc 2006, Chateau Latour 2006, and one of my favourite wines tasted this year, Termanthia 2003, from Toro in Spain.

What is an iconic/great wine? Picture this: I am pouring wine at the Stellenbosch Wine Festival Kanonkop stall on Saturday afternoon. A shit load of drunk students around. They bitch about the three tickets for a shot of Paul Sauer 2008. They can gulp most other wines for one ticket. But plenty of them come back for more Sauer because it is “lekker”.

I see the same thing on Saturday mornings in the Kanonkop tasting room ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ people who are certainly not wine fundis, recognise the Sauer as a wonderful wine. A great wine delivers much more than we are used to drinking. So much more, that even the uninitiated can recognise it.

Marc Kent, winemaker and part-owner of Boekenhoutskloof, introduced us to the wines of the Northern and Southern Rhone. “The Rhone Valley for me is about a generosity of spirit,” he described the area. The same can be said of Marc ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ his encouragement during the tasting was nothing short of inspiring.

He described Syrah from Cornas as “the best expression of the grape in the world”. The Les Vielles Fontaines, Alain Voges 2005, proved the point.

The Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape 2004 was spicey, yet smooth, with a dusty/chalkiness I always look for in wines from the south of France.

I was blown away by the Spanish wines we tasted under the guidance of our wine lecturer “Prof” Bertus Fourie. I have never tasted a wine from Spain before. My tasting notes describe the Felix Callejo 2005 from Ribera del Duero as “chocolate, savoury, leather, prune, liqourice ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ beautiful”.

Of all the wines we tasted throughout the year, the Termanthia 2003, will take some beating ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ prunes, tabac, cr?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ëme brulee, smoked paprika. The rest of the tasting note contain a couple of appreciative expletives.

Teddy Hall guided us through the Loire Valley, but the pick of the wines for me was his Dr Jan Cats Chenin blanc Reserve 2010. He also shared a lot of technical stuff with us about making Chenin blanc.

The Italian tasting concentrated on Piedmont and Tuscany and were presented by Italian wine fundi, Caroline Rillema. During this tasting in April she offered to present a tasting of older Nebbiolos to the class and last week we tasted two 1996s, two 2000s (one of which was compared with a 2007 from the same producer) and a 2004. These wines were beautiful, with flavours of rose petals, liquorice, tar, and earthiness. But, if you cannot taste through tannins in your wine, stay away.

A German Riesling tasting was presented by Cape Wine Master, Gerald Ludwinski. These easy drinking wines, at imported prices of roughly between R150 and R350, are excellent value for money. Our viticulture lecturer. Lorraine Geldenhuys memorably described the nose of the Von H?+¦???+¦?+¦????vel Oberemmeler H?+¦???+¦?+¦???+ætte 2003 Auslese as “like a breaking wave”.

Peter Finlayson of Bouchard-Finlayson did a Burgundy tasting. I loved the elegance and the combination of red fruit, savoury notes, acidity, and dustiness in most of the red Burgundies we tasted. A stand-out was the first cru Les Cazetiers 2007 from Gevrey Chambertin. The best of the Chardonnays was first cru Les Genevrieres 2008 from Domaine Hubert Chavey with very appealing citrus/lime notes and flintiness on the finish.

We also tasted his Galpin Peak 2003 and 2009. Both wines were clean ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ none of that farmyard funk. The 09 had loads of fruit pastille, candy and a very appealing chalkiness. Along with Charles Hopkins’s Pinot Noir CWG 2010, these were the best Pinots I have sampled.

One of the best wines that almost made me jump up and shout hallelujah was the Bouchard-Finlayson 2004 Chardonnay Sans Barrique. This wine had beautiful balance, a canned asparagus nose, with lots of orange blossom, and a great nuttiness. This is an unwooded wine that was left on its lees (no battonage) until just before bottling. It may well last many more years to come and it is fantastic.

Bertus Fourie, guided us through an Australian tasting. Hate their rugby team, love their wines. I was struck by the honesty of the wines ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ what you get on the nose, is delivered on the palate. Nothing is more irritating than a cock-tease wine: it promises pleasure, but delivers none.

One of the picks of the tasting was the Henschke Johann’s Garden 2004 Shyrah, Mouvedre, Grenache blend from Barossa ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ lush, loads of red fruit, great balance and follow through.

We are not a bunch of expert tasters, but everybody loved the Penfolds Grange 2000 ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ velvety, with truffles, peppermint crisp, and butterscotch. It fits my definition of a great wine. I will drink a lot of this if it was not R4 000 a bottle.

Cape Winemaster Andy Roediger presented wines from the Americas. I enjoyed the Argentinian Colom+¬ 2008, from the Salta region, made from the white Torront+¬s cultivar. Lots of perfume on the nose, and tastes almost like a dry Muscat.

The quality versus price of the Chilean wines was a revelation. They surely must be a huge competitor for South African wine on the international market. We tasted the entry level Chono Reserva Sauvignon blanc 2009 (12,5% alc), the Casillero del Diablo Pinot Noir 2009 (13,5%), and the Chono Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (13,5%) ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ all of them probably well below Euro 10 on the international market. These wines delivered a lot more punch than some of our lower priced wines.

I did not enjoy the Californian wines ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ too much wood, fruit and not enough acidity. The stand-out wine was a Merry Edwards 2008 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. It was clean and pure with great acidity.

Riani Strydom presented a Bordeaux tasting, but I had to leave early to earn some petrol money by conducting a tour and a Fleur de Cap tasting at Die Bergkelder. I only tasted four of about 15 wines. She pointed out that most of the wines (from round about 2004 ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ 06) was too young to be fully appreciated.

-, Riaan Smit

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3 thoughts on “Riaan Smit – Life as a Student in Wine-making

  1. Thank you Riaan, and congrats on almost wrapping up your studies. Hope to run into you again soon at your new place of work!

  2. The name caught my eye when I stumbled across this article whilst searching for some tips on what wine to buy for my brother-in-law for his birthday, and can’t help wondering whether this is the same Riaan Smit who used to drink far too much coffee at Julian’s many moons ago?! If so, good for you for pursuing what I imagine must be a dream/passion of yours, especially at such a “mature” stage of life 😉 If not, apologies for the confusion!

  3. Nicci, this would be our Riaan. He has, however, exchanged coffee for wine except during exam times. But next year he is a full-time winemaker and can concentrate on the real stuff!
    Thanks for writing.
    Emile Joubert

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