Pierre de Klerk, Graham Beck Wines
There must be a certain degree of the enviable when Cap Classique producers look at Graham Beck Wines. Not only for the immense presence of this leading South African brand in the local and international markets, but also to the team responsible for creating a range of classy Cap Classiques in considerable volume. There is Pieter Ferreira, the voice of Cap Cassique, as Graham Beck’s chief operating officer, with Pierre de Klerk riding shotgun in the role of cellar master.
Some 13 years after joining Graham Beck under the auspices of Pieter, Pierre has become a recognised Cap Classique man in his own right, acknowledged today as one of the category’s most skilled, visionary and thoughtful practitioners. Not bad for someone who during his initial job interview told Pieter, “I know nothing about bubbly.”
How times have changed.
“Looking back now, I can hardly believe I uttered those words in Pieter’s presence, as today every aspect of Cap Classique holds for me mystery, intrigue and fascination,” he muses. “It is a wine that is challenging and frightening for a winemaker, as well as immensely rewarding.”
Being a specialist Cap Classique operation, for Graham Beck the focus, heart-beat and life-blood is the nuanced sparkling wine created from the right grapes, grown on suitable soils and bottle-fermented to allow the magic of the bubble to occur. Fashion and image might play a major role in the appreciation of the final product. But getting there can be interpreted, as Pierre is not shy to admit, as rather geeky.
“Yes, it is about detail from the word go,” he says. “Making Cap Classique takes no prisoners and doesn’t allow you to take your eye off the ball.”
There is the pinpoint accuracy of determining the days for picking the grapes. “Using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in early stages of ripening to get the right levels of acidity for the base wine means we have a two-week window to get the grapes to the cellar,” explains Pierre.
“There is no recipe here. Each year presents grapes with their own characteristics, so decisions must be made on fermentation yeasts, different vessels for ageing various sections of base wine, accurately blending to get to the desired style of each final wine, dosage composition… The degree of patience involved in all this was something I had to learn, but fortunately I’ve got it now.”
According to the Graham Beck ethos, the importance of terroir in creating its Cap Classiques is non-negotiable in the continuous pursuit of perfection. Pierre and his team select Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from 12 regions in the Cape Winelands, each area providing distinctive flavour profiles and palate expressions. “I get into the vineyards of our 25 different grape-farmers as much as I can, because this is where it all starts. Here Cap Classique is blessed, with ourselves and other producers having access to a varied spectrum of grape diversity that allows us to compose our wines from a varied palette of terroir expressions.”
A discernible challenge in making Cap Classique that fascinates Pierre is that elusive striving for perfection. As Pieter Ferreira says, “Quality is not a destination, it is a journey.” And Pierre concurs.
“We are always seeking new ways, methods and influences in our approach to Cap Classique,” he says. “Secondary fermentation under cork instead of the traditional crown cap, for example. Exposing the base wine to clay amphorae… There are so many steps in the process of Cap Classique that despite what we have achieved with this wine style over the years, I sometimes think we are only just scratching the surface.”
Danielle Coetsee, Boschendal
She walks in the footsteps of giants, but with tremendous ease, efficiency and a seemingly unflappable serenity. As winemaker responsible for Cap Classique production at Boschendal Estate in Drakenstein, Danielle Coetsee is all too aware of the fact that she bears the legacy of one of the Cape’s leading wine brands that was an early pioneer of Cap Classique. It was here that the legendary Achim von Arnim made Boschendal’s first Cap Classique in 1981, the second winery to do so after Simonsig’s Frans Malan started it all 10 years earlier.
“I think legacy and tradition play a major role in Boschendal’s overall image as a premium producer of Cap Classique,” says Danielle. “With a history going back to 1685, generations of legendary winemakers and being a brand that has been part of South Africa’s wine history for as long as most people can remember, Boschendal has achieved icon status. My job of making Cap Classique thus comes with a lot of responsibility in ensuring that our legacy continues. But working for an established and admired brand is a tremendous inspiration – that and my total obsession with Cap Classique.”
Danielle showed her prowess with Cap Classique from an early age. She was only in her 20s when, in 2019, she made her way to the rostrum to receive the award on behalf of Boschendal as overall winner of the annual Amorim Cap Classique Challenge, the leading competition committed to honouring winemakers in this category.
“Actually, I don’t really take to the term wine-‘maker’,” says Danielle. “The process of getting something like Cap Classique from vineyard to bottle is such an extensive, multi-faceted journey involving nature, science and various people along the way that I see myself as a guide more than a maker of something tangible. Although the final responsibility does lie with me.”
In this ‘guiding’ from grape to bottle to glass, the magic for her lies in the detailed steps required to get to the final product, as well as the sensory skills involved along the way.
“I love getting into the vineyards when I can, harvesting and creating the base wine and then seeing the wines come alive with bubbles during the secondary fermentation in bottle,” she enthuses. “But the result depends on me and on the team’s analysing of the wines’ flavour profiles and aromas to ensure the final product is of the standard expected of Boschendal. That makes it such a terrifically rewarding job, knowing you have to rely on your senses to get to the final result.”
Recognised as one of the Cape’s leading Cap Classique specialists, Danielle’s inspiration for this wine style lies in just that: the style.
“Cap Classique is the closest one can come to having something in your glass that is alive,” she says. “I have never been sad when pouring and holding a glass of bubbly, and the fact that this is such a beloved product among consumers reminds me that I am not the only one who feels this way. As a winemaker, it is just such great reward when you meet the final product after all the time and patience it has demanded of you. When I see those bubbles rising in the glass, it as if the wine is giving me a wink and saying, ‘Congratulations, we did it!’”