I spent the closing months of 2011 and the opening act of 2012 back in my old neighbourhood in Cape Town, driving out to Franschhoek and Stellenbosch to visit winemakers, friends, hold workshops and to tread old and much-loved paths. my photostream of the Cape visit and all the events is here- I discovered many new and wonderful things among the old, one of those was Winemaker Riana Van der Merwe of Seven Springs in the Hemel and Aarde valley of the Overberg.
Cape beauty coming into Stellenbosch
Seven Springs was not exactly new to me. I had met both Tim Pearson the owner and Riana at the 2011 edition of the London International Winefair with their first child carefully cradled in their hands. I tasted their first 2010 Sauvignon blanc then, and some months later travelled the length of Marche to the owner, visionaries and architects of Seven Springs Wines, Tim and Vaughan Pearsons house in Staffolo Marche Italy, perched on the hills looking over the Adriadic sea and the far hills of Umbria. There at their kitchen table I had my second viewing and tasting of their wine, and spent a delightful visit in the home and garden they have so lovingly restored and brought back to life.
Tim is the new social media success story in wine that we all like to talk about. As a team they are unstoppable and the wines have been sent sucessfully into UK and Sweden, and recently SW France! and are also carried by wineshops in the Cape. Consult the site for how you can find the wines.
So back in Cape Town, my tastings of the 2011 much extended family of wines was really interesting and I was impressed at the vision and promise of their wines. Riana joined the us at Jordan winery Stellenbosch for the workshop
Riana and I enjoyed a summer lunch and Christmas tasting of the wines taped, and then did another dinner tasting in January where the wines stood up fabulously with a roast chicken. We also drove out to Franschoek to the Bubbles festival and to visit and taste with another winemaker Pieter Hannekom.
So my interview with Riana and the video to watch (courtesy of Bottle Plate Pillow in the Cape ) for your enjoyment
1. When did you first have the thought of becoming a winemaker?
At seventeen I needed to decide what to study at university, I had thought about interior design or architecture. Then I went on a weekend trip and met a guy who was a winemaker he was so excited and passionate about his subject he spoke about his friends attending Elsenberg College to study winemaking and I decided then to investigate that. So I enrolled at Stellenbosch University for a degree so excited!! I wanted to do something that invokes passion.
2.what was your first endevour with 7Springs, and the amount of production?
I was contacted Tim by email and later drove out to meet him and Vaughan in Hermanus and as soon as I knew I had the job, the responsibility became mine, the vines were mine, I drove out there alone the next day and walked among the vines.
our first endeavor was the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc which I was quite pleased with. Small production produced 9,000 bottles.
3. If I was to give you a piece of land suited to growing grapes anywhere in the world where exactly would that be.
Actually I'd like to be right where I am.. cold climate New Zealand may be another choice.
4. What are the conditions and challenges you have had to overcome at Seven Springs?
I was never an assistant winemaker who receives orders and work flow, I had worked at Backsberg for a season, but I had to immeadiately deal with a young vineyard, a very steep learning curve. Lack of vigor our vines will continue to mature and our wines will continue to get better and better. farms arround me are producing wine off 60 year old vines. I need to work up to a style. I have had quite a few challenges, first vintage, a winery far from my vines, logistics, but I am proud of what we have achieved.
5. If you could choose one grape to work with what would it be?
6. Do you imagine you would have been given the role you play at Seven Springs in the old world e.g. France?
probably not, its unlikely I would have been given this responsibility and make such important moves without direct supervision. Tim and Vaughan have been involved every step of the way, however they are in UK and on a daily basis I must plan and carry out the work of the vineyard.
7.What Cape conditions make you happy
The Hemel and Aarde valley in the Overberg, where we have our vineyard, the sheer diversirty of the Cape. I can be walking up in the mountains and then down in the city within an hour or two promoting our wines, the natural beauty we have here and the the perfect conditions to grow wine.
8 Tell me your average day during harvest.
Get up at five, pack all my stuff in the bakkie. remember to take lunch and water, for drinking and handwashing.
and my shears, arrive at the vineyard wait for pickers to arrive at 7am. I strictly try to make sure that if they smoke or eat during breaks in picking they must wash their hands or it will be imparted to the grapes. Oxidation is your enemy you dont want grapes lying out in the midday sun, we want to have them picked and on their way by 11am. Once the grapes are picked, we want to get them sorted and crushed asap. They sort for a couple of hours I have to supervise all if that.
If Im doing red Im home by 8 pm and with whites it can be 1am. Then once its in the tanks I can breathe for a moment .
The white wines take longer to get done as we have to leave them on skins whereas the red is quicker and easier at this stage.
9. This harvest was your biggest ever right? 2012 what were your challenges, did the weather smile on you?
Yes we harvested our biggest production, it was not without challenges picked 56 tons, transport and logistic issues and getting it into the winery at Almenkerk before it got too hot. the weather at harvest was good, not crazy hot. Heatwave is good for quantity, less for quality, but during picking once the sugar analysis is done, we must move quickly to pick, and logistics dont always allow that.
10 what is your icon wine so far? what vintage and which wine would you run away with if you had a fire breakout..
Dont feel I have an icon wine yet . I hope to make a 100% Viognier one day.
11. What would you change about the vineyards you have?
Have a winery closer to the vines and right now we make the wine Almenkerk and have to transport out the grapes.
12. Who is your winemaker mentor in South Africa?
13. What do you want people to experience when they open your wine
The passion, place and dedication that went into into making it.
Seven Springs Timeline.
I thought you may like to know a little more about Seven Springs Vineyard
so here is the story so far. I live in the UK and my main business is in
commercial cleaning in Warwick UK and it
is this that has enabled me to indulge in something I am passionate
about, wine and South Africa. Our first wines were made in 2010 at Iona
Vineyards in Elgin and we hope to build our own winery and tasting room
in a few years time. We produced just over 9000 bottles of wine in our
first year made up of:-Sauvignon Blanc (4400 bottles), Syrah (3000
bottles) and a lightly oaked Chardonnay (2100 bottles). The wines, from
young vines, are of an excellent quality...but I would say that, wouldn't
I. 2011 saw us add a Pinot Noir and unoaked Chardonnay to our 'portfolio'
and we are now making our wines at the Almenkerk Winery in Elgin as Iona
were up to full capacity.
Our intention is to focus on the UK, South African and European markets,
concentrating on effectively marketing the wines through specialist wine
retailers. We wish to work hand in hand to help our resellers promote and
sell our wines. We will expand our markets as our production increases.
As you will see below we have started already achieved significant online
exposure for Seven Springs.
We are absolutely proud of our young winemaker Riana who shows a real
passion and talent for winemaking, the future looks bright.