Meet Zonnebloem's new Viticulturist, Isabel Habets


Posted on: 17 March 2016


The harvest might be down on last year, because of the impact of the drought, but according to Isabel Habets, who is Zonnebloem’s newly appointed viticulturist, the quality is very promising.

“The whites have been coming in with beautifully concentrated, rich flavours. We’re starting to harvest the reds now. The smaller than average size of the grapes gives us a very good skin to fruit ratio and that’s why the colours as are so remarkably intense this year. It’s quite extraordinary! Fruit sugars and acids are in great balance. We really are expecting big things from our red wines this season.”

Isabel Habets loves growing things. “It binds me with the earth in a physical, literal way but also in a way that reminds me I am a part of life’s continual cycle.”

Her job is to liaise with hand-picked Stellenbosch growers who supply grapes to the cellar, applying her extensive viticultural knowledge. Outside of work, when she isn’t swimming, scuba diving, paddle boarding or walking her dogs on the beach, she is growing plants and vegetables. “Nothing tastes better than when you have grown it yourself.”

A scientist by training, she fell in love with bio-chemistry at university, switching from a regular BSc at Stellenbosch University to a BSc Agric to major in viticulture and oenology. She brings almost 18 years of professional experience, years enriched by research projects to find ways of growing vines better. “By better, we mean striving for optimal grape ripeness and for greater environmental mindfulness and therefore sustainability.”

Before joining the Zonnebloem team, she was focused primarily on viticultural research and sustainability. She was part of a study exploring optimal wine-grape ripening and has played a role in Fruit Look, a portal for fruit and grape growers in the Western Cape, established with Dutch organisation eLEAF and funded by the Western Cape department of agriculture in cooperation with the national department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The initiative uses satellite imagery to provide weekly updates on vine growth and health. The portal allows observers to assess differences within specific vineyard blocks and also the impact of a variety of water management strategies.

She is excited at the prospect of applying what she has learned in her new role.

“There is enormous diversity of terroir within Stellenbosch itself, on the farms of our network of suppliers and within specific vineyard blocks from Jonkershoek to Simonsberg, Helderberg, Banhoek, Stellenbosch Kloof, Devon Valley and Bottelary. The team has built up very detailed profiles of every one of the 300 vineyard blocks from which we draw for Zonnebloem. With new research and technology at our disposal, perhaps we can enrich the detail even further.

“Many of our growers have been supplying to Zonnebloem for generations. They know their vineyards as well as they know themselves. You can’t separate their knowledge and skills from the terroir. But imagine if we can deepen some of our insights for even better styling of the wines!

“I love the idea of being part of the team making wines for such an historic brand. Zonnebloem has been enjoyed by generations but stays relevant despite there being so many changes in the world of wine. I think it is because it has such a contemporary attitude and style. It comes from being open to possibility and that includes applying new research and technology. To me that’s an important way of honouring and strengthening the legacy.

Her favourite wines are Zonnebloem’s Shiraz and the Shiraz/Mourvèdre/Viognier blend.

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