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Hagen Viljoen appointed new Zevenwacht cellar master

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Hagen Viljoen
Hagen Viljoen.

Hagen Viljoen, previously assistant winemaker at Stellenbosch property Zevenwacht, returns as cellarmaster after six years away at Solms-Delta and then Grand Provence. Viljoen, a graduate in Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Stellenbosch, has over 12 years’ winemaking experience. He replaces Jacques Viljoen, who is now Boschendal cellar master.

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  1. Hello Christian, it seems that the job description of Cellarmaster, or position if you like, has recently been on the rise in respect of several South African wine producers i.e. Alvi’s Drift, Gabriëlskloof, Graham Beck, Rustenberg, Thelema, Kanonkop, Cederberg, Hartenberg, Bouchard Finlayson, Boekenhoutskloof, Waterford and now Zevenwacht.

    However, it seems that there exists a distinct difference in respect of function between the position internationally and South Africa.

    In South African terms it seems as though the winemaker is responsible for all winemaking decisions as well as the day-to-day running of a cellar. The Cellarmaster fulfils the role of a wine ambassador and is thus not involved in the day-to-day running of the cellar or actual winemaking decisions, that being left to the winemaker, thus, arguably, basking in the limelight of the winemaker.

    Internationally though, the Cellarmaster function on role is that of an assistant winemaker and he or she reports to the winemaker. The Wine Enthusiast Magazine describe the functional role and function as follows:

    “Job Description: Responsible for every facet of production from the time the grapes arrive at the winery to the time the bottled wine is shipped out. Work with the winemaker to create wines that reflect his taste and style. Hire, train and supervise cellar rats. Order equipment and supplies such as tanks, barrels, gases, bottles and crates.

    How to Get There: Start as a cellar rat and work your way up. Broad knowledge of how wine is made and how wineries operate. Degree in oenology is helpful but not essential.

    Next Step: Winemaker.”

    Various positions advertised confirms this position e.g. Sextant wines in Paso Robles advertised the position of a Cellar Master as follows:

    “POSITION DESCRIPTION: Cellar Master of Sextant Wines will manage all cellar, laboratory, safety and compliance related issues for the winery.”

    Reports to:
    1: Winemaker
    2: Assistant Winemaker (if applicable).
    3: Ownership”

    Owen Roe winery, Yakima, Washington advertised the position of a Cellar Master as follows:

    “Job Description: Under the general direction of the Winemakers, the Cellar master is responsible for the overall performance of the cellar team to achieve the desired wine quality and business goals. This encompasses short and long-term cellar work planning, managing cellar supplies, ordering, and inventory management. Works closely with the winemaking team to hire full time and temporary cellar personnel, training and supervising, safety management, and cellar work procedures. Maintenance of the highest standard of cellar hygiene and organization in a showcase winemaking facility is paramount.”

    Given the above, what is the role, function and duties of a cellar master and a winemaker in South Africa, how are they delineated and the role and functions differentiated. Shouldn’t there be more acknowledgement regarding the achievement(s) of the winemakers being responsible for the actual winemaking and running of the cellar on a day-to-day basis and placed alongside the limelight position of a wine ambassador that being the Cellarmaster?

  2. Hi Le Penseur, Not wishing you to be overly simplistic in my response to the issue that you raise, I think you can view “cellar master” in the South African context as a glorified term for “senior winemaker” – more than an brand ambassador in the sense that he or she would still be very much involved in production but above some of the more menial work. In addition, the cellar master would probably have at least one qualified winemaker reporting to him or her.

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