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Malu Lambert: Interview with Krige Visser of Arcangeli

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Krige Visser
Krige Visser of Arcangeli Vineyards.

Krige Visser is part bearded sage, part supressed Afrikaans novelist, part winemaker and marketer; and all hedonist. “My motto has always been one of reinvention,” he says amid the morning bustle of the Chardonnay Deli in Constantia. “You have to keep changing things up.”

These days he’s fully present in his latest incarnation as the self-taught winemaker of Bot River-based operation Arcangeli Vineyards. “I was 53-years-old when I started making wine. The learning process keeps you young.”

Though his mantra may be one of change, the more I talk to him, the more apparent it becomes that the grape has been there in some form or another throughout his life. Starting with a childhood growing up in the Orange River, where his folks tended hanepoot vineyards. Young Krige helped pick the grapes and by the time he turned 10 he knew how to drive a tractor. Coming of age, he dusted off his boots and went to go study at Pretoria University—where of all things he did a BA. Not being able to speak a word of English, he learned quickly.

This anecdote underlines the quiet confidence that Krige has about him. From the way he tells it, I don’t think he’s ever been afraid of trying something new.

After university, the next few years saw him trying on a few hats, from working as a reporter, to administrative work in civil service. Though, been a self-confessed hedonist the call of the grape soon pulled him into the world of wine marketing, working for brands such as Two Oceans, Drosdty Hof, Durbanville Hills, La Vierge, Avondale and others. A gig that saw him travelling the world – from the busy streets of New Orleans to the zen of Japan.

“I could always visualise how I wanted a wine to be made. When we started Mount Abora Vineyards, I could finally put this visualisation into practice.”

Mount Abora is a project he co-founded with Pieter de Waal (Hermit on the Hill) and Johan “Stompie” Meyer, who makes the wines.

“I learnt from Stompie to trust your gut in winemaking.” He’s carried this philosophy over to Arcangeli, where he’s shed his wine marketer persona completely and is fully immersed as winemaker.

“I delve into the unseen, I look for the soul of the grape. I want wine to be real from the ground up. People think in supermarket terms, and then they treat their wines like supermarket wines. They should stop to ask: What is my brand, what is it about?”

When I ask him about the decision to become a winemaker without first acquiring formal training, he references cult movie director Quentin Tarantino: “Did he study? No, he just went to the movies. I just went to the wine.”

Arcangeli, previously known as Freiteras Vineyards before Italian construction businessman Sandro Arcangeli bought it, is just four hectares and the farming here is on its way to being fully organically farmed. “In terms of sustainability and water scarcity there is no other way to farm. You need to look after your soil,” says Visser.

At Arcangeli, he makes three reds and two whites, all fermented spontaneously and matured in old oak.

The two whites were among the top performers in the recent Alternative Varieties Report: the Arcangeli Feiteiras Verdelho 2016 rating 93 points on the 100-point quality scale and the Arcangeli Semillon 2016 91.

“I give the verdelho some skin contact. It’s a naturally acidic grape—and because you have that acid to work with, you can afford to look for extra texture. It’s bit like a canvas you can’t stop painting.”

He says he treats the semillon in much the same manner. Veering away from the grassy, more herbaceous style of semillon, he makes it oxidatively with a focus on developing texture and depth of flavour.

His reds, meanwhile, include a Merlot Petit Verdot Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 and a Syrah Mourvèdre 2016 (see here).

“Winemaking though is all about picking at the right time,” he stresses. “I also learnt that from Stompie – if the pH of your wine is good, your wine will be good. Balance is everything. Acid and tannin are the the building blocks of texture and style. If you get your picking date wrong, you’ll have nothing to build with.”

When not chasing the souls of grapes, you’ll find Krige cooking something delicious in his Kleinmond kitchen, spending time with his partner of 20 years and his four rescue dogs, road-tripping in his old Subaru, or even giving aura massages, as you do.

For someone who’s lived so many lives, I ask him if there’s one he thinks he’s missed out on. “I’d love to write the next great Afrikaans novel, maybe in my next life I’ll do it, even if I come back as a caterpillar.”

  • Malu Lambert is a freelance food and wine journalist who has written for numerous titles including Food & Home, Good Taste and The Sunday Times. She has achieved Level 3 via WSET and won the title of Veritas Young Wine Writer 2015. She also owns story-telling agency, Fable, which works with high-end food, wine and hospitality brands, telling their unique stories in a variety of digital formats. Follow her on Twitter: @MaluLambert

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