The din of the cellar mutes winemaker Trizanne Barnard’s voice as she draws the thief from the barrel. She fills my glass with its golden contents, and I hear enough to know its barrel-aged Semillon.
Colleague Duncan Savage is in the background—directing a forklift carrying an amphora as tall as he is. In it, he’s fermented some grapes on the skins and is now trying to figure out how to get the vinous debris out. The cellar—an old mine—is three floors underground and is located on the Cape Point Vineyards property. Barnard rents part of the space to make her range of Trizanne Signature Wines (which includes a reserve tier).
The petite brunette is one of a growing number of winemakers going on their own—without the backing of an estate, armed with just their wits and wines.
Pressure hoses not being conducive to interviews, we agree to meet up at Cape Point Vineyard’s picnic and restaurant area. The views from up here are stupendous, green vines give way to the pastoral suburb of Noordhoek, and the wide bands of sand and sea beyond.
The oceanic backdrop is a fitting scene from where to delve into this Kommetjie resident’s life. There are a few things you first need to know about Barnard: she’s beautiful, a kind of elfin green-eyed beauty. She loves to surf; and she loves her family (married with two sons). So, in many ways the decision to go on her own was motivated by the kind of life she wanted to live.
“I always wanted to go on my own,” she says. “ Otherwise I feel I would’ve just hit the ceiling, again and again.”
“If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to do it,” she admits wryly. “It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve started to see the light.
After graduating from Stellenbosch University with a degree in viticulture and oenology, she worked vintages in Australia, France and Portugal.
She learnt some important lessons in her time overseas, things she integrates into the way she makes wines today. “When I was at Moss Wood in Margies [Margaret River, Western Australia], the winery was just this little shack with some barrels. There I really understood it’s all about the grape, and not about the facilities or building.
“It was also the first time I had come across a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend.” (A blend with which she’s had much success with the Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Semillon.)
“From there I went to Alsace. It blew my mind what certain varieties in the right conditions can really do. The wines were so aromatic, explosive.”
Back on home soil, she dropped her CV off at Klein Constantia, where Adam Mason had just taken the position of winemaker. She recalls thinking: “He’s going to need an assistant winemaker, here’s my CV I’m going to France to learn about really nice white wines.”
Turns out he did. Barnard joined the team. “We grafted hard, both Adam and I were new in the cellar, and we had to find our way.” Then in 2004, an interesting opportunity presented itself. “In that year the French partners of Klein Constantia got interested in another property, Anwilka. They only wanted to make a specific style of red wine, so they sent me to Bordeaux. When I got back I had to start the cellar by transforming a tractor shed.”
After four years at Anwilka, in 2008, she went solo, focussing on the regions of Elim and Swartland.
To be an entrepreneur you have to know how to manage your time. Luckily, this was forged into Trizanne at a young age.
Over glasses of the Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, she tells me her story. Born in Cape Town, the family moved to Natal for a brief period when Barnard was still toddling. The next move was to Vereeniging.
“It was an awesome town to grow up in. I had a bike and I could do anything and everything I needed to do. Both my folks worked, so I had to manage my own time from about nine years of age, and plan to get to places.”
After school she travelled for two years, and even worked on a kibbutz in Israel where she says she was first introduced to agriculture. “It was very similar to a winery. Just the tanks were full of fish, not wine.”
Back when South Africans were still being granted two-year working visas, she also worked in England as a careworker and then as a bartender at a silver-service London restaurant. “That experience exposed me to many international wines.”
Back home while pursuing her degree she did a stint at Die Bergkelder as a tasting host. “Being a bit of an introvert it was quite something to do a cellar tour with 60-odd people – I knew nothing.
She started to learn quickly. Her internship at Jordan Winery stands out. “Those first few years with Gary and Kathy Jordan really showed me how you position yourself and think about wine as a business.”
Eight vintages on, the TSW range is a success—it’s shown she too has thought about wine as a business. Though it’s not all surfboard wax and handcrafted wines.
Barnard is also a blender and broker for big volumes of wine being bottled in the UK. “As a winemaker I’m happy to supply everyone. Plus, I had to make a plan, or I would’ve sunk.” Her attention to the quality of the winemaking is the same if not the amount of labour. “I just don’t crush a million tons of grapes myself.”
Though it’s her premium range we’re focusing on today. Speaking of the Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2013, she says: “I always choose slightly more exposed grapes for that fresh, pure fruit.” Whereas with the barrel component of the blend the focus is on the structure rather than the purity. “It doesn’t have the herbal, crisp flavour, it’s more fleshy.”
“I also work with dirty juice – using whole bunch press and I don’t settle it. If your grapes are good, you don’t have to worry.”
She has long-standing relationships with the Elim farms she selects her grapes from. “The quantities vary but I always end up choosing from the same blocks.”
“I’m quite particular about Elim.” She values the region for its cool climate and in turn the purity of its fruit
“When driving to Elim, things suddenly change when I hit Bredasdorp. I always experience this vivid light, which just keeps getting brighter. The place feels so vast, sand and fynbos with no obstructions, just this pure flow of energy.”
“The soils there are ancient and vary from shale, gravel and decomposed granite also known as Koffieklip.”
We’ve now opened a bottle of Reserve Syrah 2014 to taste. Also from Elim, these grapes have been harvested from three vineyards, each from a different clone.
The Swartland is very much in her sights too, and she’s making a number of wines with grapes sourced from the region. Most notably, the TSW Syrah Grenache 2014, made from hand-picked grapes from 17-year-old dry-land vines on schist soils.
Before we part ways she lets me know with a smile that she’s also just bottled her first vintage of Barbera from Swartland soil.
No waves, no glory – right?
- 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