Friday, 9 October 2015

Interview with Boschendal’s lady winemaker

Lizelle Gerber, the white winemaker of Boschendal, joined the wine industry quite accidentally. She was in the military while visiting a friend at Elsenburg College, an agricultural college in Stellenbosch with a fully operational winery. Knowing that she likes outdoor and practical training, she signed up for the winemaking course even though she grew up in a family where drinking wine was not the norm. She considered it a challenge and she likes challenges.

Lizelle never looked back. Her winemaking career started at Zevenwacht Estate (South Africa), a harvest in Alsace (France) and followed by a few years at Avontuur (South Africa) where her wines won numerous awards. She eventually joined Boschendal, one of the original wine farms in Franschhoek, South Africa and the most premium DGB’s brand, in 2006. She is responsible for its Méthode Cap Classique (MCC, sparkling wine made in traditional method), all white wines and the entire Elgin series. The Elgin Pinot Noir is the only red wine she made in Boschendal.

MCC is something that is dear to Lizelle, probably because two of her sparkling wines she made during the first vintage at Boschendal were highly recognised. The Grand Cuvée Brut 2007, a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that has spent 36 months on lees, won a double gold at Veritas Awards 2011, while Jean Le Long 2007, a blanc de blanc with 60 months on lees, was awarded a silver medal in Veritas Awards 2013. Lizelle is particularly proud of the latter. The Chardonnay grapes were selected from old vines from the cooler sites and only 500 litres of juice was extracted from one ton of grapes. Supported by crisp acidity, the wine has an array of aromas from citrus and dry lemon peel to biscotti that intermingles with the fine bubbles.

Lizelle also showed us her latest wine, Rachel’s Chenin Blanc 2015, that was just off the bottling line a few weeks ago. Chenin Blanc, although originated from Loire, has the most planting in South Africa. It is diverse and the style can range from fruity and easy drinking to oaked aged with ageing potential. Rachel belongs to the fruitier style but with a twist. 10% of the wine was fermented in old oak barrels to add a bit of texture and give a round mouthfeel. It paired beautifully with the scallop tartar but also stood up to the panfried foie gras that we had for dinner, demonstrating the versatility of the variety.

The Elgin series is Lizelle’s baby. She developed it back in 2008 with the aim of
producing a portfolio of super premium appellation specific wines from single vineyard sites that expresses the Elgin’s cool viticultural climate. It took her five years to bottle the first wine in 2013. Of the three wines from the series, Lizelle found the Sauvignon Blanc the most challenging and satisfying - to rein in the pungent aroma and prolong the ageability. She certainly overcome the challenge as the first vintage (2012) was awarded the gold medal at The Michelangelo International Wine Awards 2013.

How about female winemakers in a male dominated world? Lizelle said when she was at Elsenburg, there were only two female students in a group of 12. Women have had to work three to four times harder to prove themselves. She witnessed the acceptance of female winemakers over the past 15 years and now they are just viewed as fellow colleagues, without any gender issue. At Elsenburg today, the male and female students split is about half.

Given her passion for MCC, Lizelle urged wine lovers to give it a try. Most of them are better than the entry level champagne but at less than half the price. The more serious ones, like the Jean Le Long, can certainly rival the prestige bubbly. She also insisted that we should not just call the wine South African sparkling, the official name is Cap Classique!

She also remarked on Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault created in South African that has a love-hate relationship with both winemakers and consumers. It is true that the earlier Pinotage was a hit and miss but with better understanding of the grape variety and improvement in winemaking technique, Pinotage proved to be a versatile variety which can be made into various style of wine from easy drinking to one with longevity.

Established in 1685, this year is the 330th anniversary of Boschendal Estate, the second oldest estate in South African and only two months younger than its bigger brother Groot Constantia. Celebrate its birthday with a glass of Lizelle’s Cap Classique, or even better, pay a visit to its historical manor house in Franschhoek!

Boschendal is available from Royal Oak.

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