From the April issue of Business Day WANTED: André van Rensburg is renowned for being outspoken but is perhaps also one of South Africa’s most passionate and committed winemakers. He has worked at Anglo American-owned Vergelegen in Somerset West since 1998 during which time it has become firmly positioned among the country’s leading wineries. He lives on the property with wife and fellow winemaker Maritza in an old farm house. “Vergelegen is sacred and to live there means I NEVER have to make any pilgrimages to Holy Sites!” he says.
When it comes to reds, Vergelegen is largely focused on the varieties of Bordeaux. Why do they work so well here?
The production of wine is determined by terroir – soil, aspect, micro-climate and the philosophy of the winemaking team. We have a special climate and very old soils. And as to the philosophy? We have a lot more in common with Bordeaux than Burgundy or any other region. The same great expectation when you arrive at the gate – a place of beauty but also of civilization. This is not Peasantville!
You’ve been at the property since 1998. What do you know now that you wish you’d know then?
I wish I had known then that leafroll virus could be conquered and no time would have been wasted on infected vineyards!
Big-name French wine consultant Michel Rolland now advises at Vergelegen. Why was he called in and what’s he like to work with?
I asked for permission to use his skills. It was no one else’s decision. He brings vast experience and a unique insight into vineyards to the party. He is a truly great blender and a fantastic wine person. He made it clear from day one that the goal is not to produce great French wine BUT great Vergelegen wines. I have seven vintages left on Vergelegen – till compulsory retirement sends me packing – and there is still so much that we have to achieve! He can certainly help me achieve a lot of those goals.
What are some of the more interesting insights he has provided?
Freshness, less oak, even more lees work and more focus on Merlot and Semillion, lower sulphur levels, earlier bottling.
Is the SA wine industry on track? What are we getting right and what are we getting wrong?
We are producing better wines than ever before – great quality at extremely affordable pricing. But the image of South Africa is problematic and only [generic export body] Wines of South Africa and the producers can change that – with a concerted effort!
What has been your most memorable wine experience?
There have been many BUT a ’61 Latour and ‘a 62 Mouton are imprinted on my memory.
Where did your last overland expedition take you? What impressed you on the trip?
We explored the Central Kalahari – this was a first visit to Botswana and hopefully there will be a lot of repeat visits. The ruggedness of the geography and the warm friendliness of the people. And then the abundance of donkeys everywhere. I simply adore donkeys and it’s not because they’re so well hung!
You have two parrots. Tell us about them.
The eldest is Seun , an African Grey and a complete mommy’s boy – although he will tell everyone that he is my son! Loves people visiting and a complete sucker for passion fruit. The youngest one is two years old, a female Senegalese parrot. Moans a lot when we go to bed too late or don’t switch of the light in their room. And can’t get enough of her head being scratched.
Good wine demands good food. What’s the perfect match with Vergelegen Cab Merlot 2011?
Try to decant the wine at least two to three hours before serving to allow it to open up. Then really simple fare like rack of Karoo lamb or oxtail works are great. Kudu and Springbok also work well but opting for these can be only be for health reasons!