From the May issue of Business Day WANTED: Only 26 years old, Carla Nieuwoudt has packed a lot into her short winemaking career – after qualifying from Elsenburg agricultural college in 2009, she set off to work harvests at Haselgrove Wines in McLarenvale, Australia and La Crema in Sonoma Valley, California. On returning to South Africa, she did stints at Seidelberg (now Spice Route), Stellar Organics, Lutzville Vineyards and Origin Wine before taking a position at Tierhoek situated in the Piekenierskloof between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam at the beginning of this year.
She married Hein, a quality inspector at the Perishable Products Export Control Board, in September last year and is pregnant with their first baby due in October. They live on a citrus farm about 12km from Tierhoek and own a Jack Russel called Tiekie and a Boerboel called Maya.
You’ve just completed your first harvest at Tierhoek. What was the biggest eye-opener about making wine in this part of the world?
I think the biggest surprise for me was to see how vines can flourish with very few inputs. We don’t irrigate except for one or two blocks and we don’t spray for pests. All practices are organic even though we aren’t certified organic – we believe the vines are happiest with this approach.
Don’t you think you might get lonely being so remote?
Sometimes I do get lonely, but I’m lucky to have a husband like Hein – we do everything together. We also have a very special and close group of friends in the Citrusdal area.
Describe the style of your Sauvignon Blanc
Our Sauvignon Blanc is definitely not your “typical” South African style with the overpowering green flavours or lots of tropical fruit. You can say it’s a traditional Loire-style Sauvignon Blanc made partly from 20-year-old unirrigated bush vines and partly from younger, cooler situated vines. The natural high acidity in the grapes ensures a fresh wine in the bottle for two years-plus. After fermentation, the wine is kept in contact with fine lees for about six months before bottling, ensuring structure and lots of mouth feel. A small percentage of the wine is fermented in barrels, which gives the wine even more to discover on the palate and is another reason why our Sauvignon Blanc ages so well in bottle.
You have 60-year-old ungrafted Grenache and 40-year-old Chenin. What’s it like to work with these old vines?
It’s an honour. These blocks are really well adapted to their environment and the wines just about make themselves. Nothing is added or taken away. Every wine goes through ups and downs from picking to bottling, but with the wines from these older vines you can rest assured that the quality will come through in the end.
What has been your most memorable wine experience?
It must be the harvest I did in Australia. I’ve never worked so hard in my life, but it was all so worth it, working with a great team and seeing how much trust the winemakers had in us even though we were just interns. When you’re given responsibility, it makes hard work more rewarding.
You’re a keen baker. What’s the secret to the perfect chocolate cake?
Buttermilk for moisture!
What would you cook to match with Tierhoek Sauvignon Blanc 2013?
This wine will go great a creamy seafood pasta. Goats’ cheese is also a classic pairing.