Interview: Rudi Schultz of Thelema

By , 7 September 2014

Rudi Schultz of Thelema.

Rudi Schultz of Thelema.

From the September issue of Business Day WANTED: Rudi Schultz, winemaker at Thelema Mountain Vineyards in Stellenbosch, says he gets his love of nature from his biology teacher father. The old man was obviously influential as Schultz’s three brothers are also involved in wine production – Carl winemaker at Hartenberg, Gunter at Kleinood (which produces wines under the Tamboerskloof label) while Werner is viticulturist at Thelema.

Currently 44 years old, Rudi graduated from Elsenburg Agricultural College in 1993 and has worked two vintages abroad: at Sonoma-Cutrer in California and Château Joanny in France’s Southern Rhône Valley.  After stints at Rustenberg and Jordan, he joined Thelema in 2000.

He’s married to Jalaun and they live in Somerset West with their two children Michael, aged 13, and Gabrielle, 8, plus a “bevy of animals”: two Maine Coon cats called Valencia and Jimmy Choo (he the bearer of 7 toes and hence polydactyl), a Thai Siamese cat called Snowflake, a German Shepherd called Koal and huge Doberman with the unlikely name of Jasmine, some fish and loads of budgies.

Tell us about Wade Bales Winemaker Selection Rudi Schultz Sauvignon Blanc 2014.
The grapes come from Thelema. I like to keep the winemaking as simple as possible – picking is done at maximum flavor potential, equivalent to about 22.5⁰ Balling, and then a three-week cold fermentation period of 14⁰ Celsius.  I try to keep this wine on gross lees for as long as possible to ensure extra palate weight. There’s mandarin, melon and fresh grass on the nose while the palate is concentrated and long.

Some people love super-green Sauvignon Blanc and others are not so fond of it. How do you feel about this particular style?
It’s a very distinctive style – an attention-grabber.  I find such wines very attractive on the nose but I often find I can only drink one glass.

The Loire is the traditional home of Sauvignon Blanc and New Zealand also makes some fine examples. Is South Africa in contention at the highest level?
Yes, we definitely are.  Our varied terroirs offer unique interpretations of the wine. One or two smaller grape-growing areas in South Africa produce similar styles to way down South but not with the overload of grass, green pepper and cat pee that they sometimes show. 

What has been your most memorable wine experience?
Opening a long treasured bottle of Opus One the night I asked my wife to marry me.

You’re a keen surfer and say Still Bay Point is a favourite spot. What makes it special?
It is uncrowded with clean water, consistent waves and I haven’t seen many sharks there.

No waves for a while because you recently injured your right rotator cuff. Talk us through what happened.
I went for a Sunday surf at Paranoia Point near Pringle Bay after a big weekend storm and got caught on the inside of a big breaking set. While attempting to duck-dive under  a wave, the force of it over-extended my shoulder and the result is six months without surfing… my dad says it’s an age thing.

You’re also into paddling and you say the annual Cape Point Challenge from Scarborough to Fish Hoek is a highlight. What’s the attraction of this race?
50 kilometers of open-ocean paddling is a challenge but it’s also very beautiful – rounding the Cape Point Peninsula is always special.

Ever had an encounter with a Great White?
I have seen a few whilst paddling. The biggest fright, though, was a breaching Bryde’s Whale which was uncomfortably close to my surfski.  Close enough that I thought it might land on my lap.


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