From the February issue of Business Day WANTED: Gavin Patterson is vineyard manager and winemaker at the increasingly impressive Sumaridge near Hermanus . Now 43, he embarked on his career in his birth country of Zimbabwe straight out of school and for a thirteen-year-period starting in 1990, he honed his skills as manager, winemaker and then proprietor of Green Valley Vineyards near the village of Odzi.
On arriving in South Africa he spent a year at Hamilton Russell Vineyards as vineyard manager before joining Sumaridge in mid-2005. He is married to Sharon, who handles Sumaridge’s marketing, and they have two children, Amanda (23) and Scott (18).
You’re Zimbabwe-born. How did you end up in wine?
I’m from farming stock and we always enjoyed wine as a family. At school, while researching a career, I grew an interest in wine, reading South African papers and publications. I approached African Distillers, an affiliate of what was then Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery, for support and in 1988 I was enrolled as a trainee.
As with many farms in the Hemel-en-Aarde area, you’re probably best known for your Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and yet you also make a smart Merlot. Why does this variety work on Sumaridge? Sumaridge is suited for high-quality Merlot due to our marginal soils with good water retention – these restrict vigour and do away with the need for excessive irrigation. The cool ocean air is also handy – it moderates temperatures which extends the ripening period resulting in better flavour development.
Describe the style of your Merlot.
I’m looking for depth of flavour – cassis and crushed leaves plus some mocha notes and restrained vanilla spice from time in oak. We also handle the grapes very gently to ensure soft tannins.
Merlot tends to get a bad rap in South Africa as being thin and weedy. Is that fair?
I agree in the general sense. Merlot can be a vigorous grower and prone to too much foliage. It has a propensity towards reliable production and relatively good disease resistance so it’s been planted widely and often in the wrong places – warm climate, soils that are too fertile and irrigation lead to poor quality fruit.
What has been your most memorable wine experience?
I’ve spent 25 years as a wine farmer and I see it as all good. The most life-changing, however, was coming to Sumaridge. My maiden vintage was 2006 and to my surprise the wines did really well at Veritas the next year!
You’re a keen fly-fisherman. What are some of your most memorable catches?
Firstly I don’t catch much! It’s all about the location, getting there and the food in my picnic basket. My most memorable catch is wild trout in the upper reaches of the Gairezi River in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe.
Favourite fishing spot in SA?
Sumaridge Estate dam in April with the sun is setting over the Walker Bay and my press in the cellar completing a cycle on my Syrah.
Your son Scott is a Protea junior bass fisherman. How competitive does it get?
I bass fished as a junior for Mashonaland and Scott grew up with a rod in his hand. I maintain that I evolved from conventional fishing to fly fishing but Scott counters that it is the most effective way of how not to catch fish. Competitive bass fishing requires extreme commitment, skill and strategy and Scott out-fishes me and most others every time. There’s a lot of banter but sadly not much competition.