From the April issue of Business Day WANTED: Conrad Vlok, now 47, graduated from Elzenburg agricultural college with a diploma in cellar technology in 1989, but promptly set off to see the world hanging out in northern Mozambique and sailing the Caribbean among other jaunts. He returned to winemaking in 1998 working first at Darling Cellars, then Delheim in Stellenbosch and export-oriented Baarsma SA.
In 2005, he took a position at Strandveld, the farm situated in the then newly established ward of Elim, the vineyards a mere eight kilometres from the true tip of Africa and the official meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. “My spirit of adventure called once again!” he says. “10 years later I’m still here. A personal record!”
He is married to Suzán and they have two teenage children, Nicholas and Marié. The family live in a restored 18th century farmhouse on the farm with arious dogs and cats, a hamster, horse, 15 geese and 50 Chickens to keep them company.
Your Sauvignon Blanc is called Pofadderbos. Any scary experiences with these snakes?
The vineyard is surrounded by fynbos, which is the natural habitat of the puff adder. They have excellent camoflauge and you can walk right up to them without knowing it. My dog Pepper was bitten on the chest, blew up like a balloon, lost his hair, but survived.
Elim is well known for its Sauvignon Blanc but you’re also making a pretty good Syrah and a Rhône-style red by the name of The Navigator. What makes the ward suited to these wines?
We’re cool-climate and our Shiraz takes longer to ripen and tends to be more peppery in flavour than the traditional warm areas. The idea with the Navigator is to soften the intense pepperiness of the Shiraz by blending in some Grenache, Mouvèdre and Viognier.
You’ve completed 10 harvests at Strandveld. What’s been the biggest surprise about farming in this part of the world? What makes Elim unique?
The weather here is very unpredictable and this makes determining the optimal harvest date very challenging, stressful even. Even though the grapes can look terrible, the final wines seriously make up for this!
What has been your most memorable wine experience?
Visiting Alphonse Mellot in Sancerre. Fantastic wines, fantastic hospitality.
You’re a keen spear-fisherman. Best catches?
Best catches are hard to define. Every outing has something special about it. The bigger the better… anything over 20kg is hoo-hah. I’ve caugh Cuta, Wahoo, Yellowtail… The one that got away always keeps you going back and for me that’s a Marlin!
Tell us about kayak fishing.
I like to fish in all the little known spots in our area. I use a handline and keep it is a primitive as possible. No GPS, no echo sounders. If you use technology, the fish don’t have a fighting chance and the shoals are getting hammered. You get your body and your mind sorted out – it’s like going to the gym and the shrink only better.