Zonnebloem’s Cellar Master: “You Must Taste the Tension”

Posted on: 18 January 2016

“When you pick up a bottle of Zonnebloem, I want you to hold the promise of excellence in your hand but also, to know you are tasting Stellenbosch,” says Elize Coetzee, cellar master for the brand.

“Stellenbosch is thrillingly multi-dimensional and multi-faceted with diverse soils, altitudes and aspects, and often dramatically different micro-climates. Think Devon Valley, Jonkershoek, Simonsberg, Helderberg, Banhoek, Stellenbosch Kloof, Bottelary and more. We vinify the grapes from every parcel of land separately to retain that individuality. It’s what gives us the building blocks to make distinctive, layered wines rich with life.”

Common to them all, she says, is a bounty of fruit on the nose and in the mouth, contrasted with an elegance of structure. “There must be some tension.  You must taste that bit of contradiction.  It’s what gives a wine its energy.”

Coetzee, previously responsible for making Zonnebloem’s white wines under Deon Boshoff, now oversees the entire range and is excited to be involved with reds again, after more than a decade.

Zonnebloem sources fruit across Stellenbosch and works with growers of very long standing. In many instances, their families have been delivering to the cellars for generations. “We work with farmers whose involvement with us goes back as far as three, even four generations!  You cannot over-estimate the value that such detailed, close and intimate conversancy with the land gives them and us.  I have been working with Zonnebloem for ten years, and so has my colleague, Bonny van Niekerk, who makes Zonnebloem reds. These vineyards have become a part of us, of our DNA, almost. We know what each can produce and together, as a team, we keep on coaxing amazingly new and different things out of them for greater nuance.

“It’s commonly understood that Stellenbosch produces outstanding reds, but we are getting great results from the region with white wine grapes too.”

She explains that with sophisticated canopy management, the team is able to get the varied expression of flavour it seeks.

She mentions that a Zonnebloem wine can be produced from as many as 70 different tanks or barrels to give the nuanced profile to the offerings in the range. “It’s not only a case of vinifying individually but often applying different yeasts and techniques to each parcel to give us our building blocks.”

The cellars are designed to encourage experimentation and learn new things, she says.  “Deon, my predecessor, was very open-minded and encouraged us to question everything and to explore. That’s how our Limited Edition collection was born. I plan to adopt a similarly enquiring approach so we keep on examining and extending ourselves, evolving as we go.”

Being a female cellar master is nothing remarkable, she says of the Adam Tas facility where not only Zonnebloem but many of South Africa’s most popular wines are produced.  “Nevertheless, it’s still very exciting to see more and more women enter the world of wine, knowing there are opportunities to develop and flourish. Apart from Bonny and me, we also have Praisy Dlamini and Michelle Louw on the cellar team. Of course, there are some very talented men too like John November, now making the whites, assistant red-wine maker, James Ochse and assistant white-wine maker, Bradley van Niekerk.

“But I often think about how Zonnebloem’s reputation really took off with Marie Furter.  It was in 1940.  She was a young, 21-year-old woman with no experience who was forced to take over winemaking with the sudden death of her father just before the harvest.  She didn’t just cope.  She excelled from the get go with her maiden vintage. We owe a lot to her and to other pioneering women in the field. They paved the way for us.

“I like to think our wines are a tribute to Marie’s bravery and can-do attitude. She’s a role model to all of us here, women and men, actually.”

Elize studied winemaking at Stellenbosch University and worked under Bruce Jack at Flagstone Winery when she graduated in 2001. She joined the Zonnebloem team in 2005.

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