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Delhi Wine Club
Nederburg Winemaker Wilhelm Pienaar

Posted: Monday, 14 October 2013 17:30

Passing By: Nederburg Winemaker Wilhelm Pienaar

Oct 14: The new generation winemaker for Nederburg, Wilhelm Pienaar was on a maiden visit to India to get a feel of the market and feedback on their wines, along with Jan Du Bruyn, the Singapore-based Regional Business Manager of Distell, owner of companies like Nederburg, JC Le Roux and Amarula, when Subhash Arora met them at an exclusive dinner with Nederburg Auction wines, at Crown Plaza Gurgaon.

Click For Large ViewWilhelm Pienaar is a young (phoren returned) winemaker who despite doing his Master’s degree in the Stellenbosch University, considered one of the best wine universities in South Africa, went to the University at Montpellier to study Master’s programme in the renowned French University on a scholarship provided by his employers Nederburg.

It’s always a pleasure and a learning opportunity to meet a winemaker from any country (including India) but Nederburg is one of the historic wineries of South Africa, which also makes fine wines. The number of 5-star rating wines bestowed by the wine bible of South Africa, Platter Guide, marks it as one of the top three wine estates in South Africa. The 222-year old estate has been truly a cultural heritage of winemaking in South Africa.

It was with anticipation that I accepted the invite from Aspri to have an exclusive dinner with him and Jan Du Bruyn, the Singapore-based Regional Business Manager of Distell, the mega-sized parent company, the biggest and perhaps most powerful wine producer of South Africa. For the uninitiated, Distill was the State owned company that controlled the total wine production of South Africa and was the sole buyer from other producers before South Africa became a free country in 1994 and a total revamping of the industry took place. Now in the private sector, It is known for a wide range including low end popular brands like Two Oceans to premium brands that include Nederburg Private Bin Selections.

I was a bit surprised when I read the Press Release screaming, ‘Aspri Spirits showcases the finest wines from South Africa,’ I could not help sniggering. In the world of wines, anyone can claim their wines to be the finest in the world; our domestic producers have already mastered the art of blowing their trumpet loudly with the majority claiming to be best-in-class globally. Even the visitors must have felt slightly uncomfortable with the quaffable but value-for-money wines from their stable the Master Reserve Sauvignon, Blanc, Shiraz and Pinotage being projected as the finest; they are a good value at Rs.1600-1800 MRP. However, I felt reassured when told that the ‘Auction’ wines would be showcased at the dinner at Bushfire-the favourite restaurant for the carnivorous connoisseurs, at Hotel Crowne Plaza in Gurgaon.

The annual Nederburg Auction with 39 editions under the hammer is truly the Ascot of Wines in South Africa. It’s on the must-attend list in the calendar of winemakers, buyers and socialites. The historical Manor House within the compound of the winery complex and an integral part of this Auction, is also used for various wine competitions a couple of which even I have attended. As Jan Du Bruyn reassured me, Nederburg makes special wines only for this prestigious auction which affords an opportunity to buyers to have exclusivity for their restaurants-ditto for collectors and connoisseurs.

After taking over the distribution from Sula 4 years ago, the current importer Aspri Spirits (I wonder when they are going to change their name to Aspri Wines and Spirits or drop the Spirits-like Distell!) started participating in Nederburg Auction since last year, bidding and buying small lots for their special 5-star hotel customers, according to Arun Kumar, Director of Aspri. The wines for auction are of excellent quality and since they are made exclusively for the event, one has an opportunity to taste some of the finest wines produced by the historical winery declared ‘the best producer of South Africa’ on several occasions.

It was interesting to hear Wilhelm’s views on the continued efforts by a few of the South African producers to push for smaller appellations when I told him that there seemed to be many small, passionate producers who were terroir-conscious. ‘First of all, I think the word terroir is quite confusing. Everyone’s opinion about it is different. In any case, look at the confusion they have created with so many small, often unheard-of appellations. We must produce good wine. It is selfish to push for new appellations with no proven track record of Terroir and add to the confusion for South African wines.’  He was happy to see the existing appellations based on the Regions and Districts such as like Stellenbosch, Elgin, Paarl, Darling, Robertson etc as the easy going Nederburg Master Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012 was served. Pleasantly absent in the fresh tasting wine made from bought out grapes from all over South Africa, was the harshness many Sauvignons from South Africa are characteristic of.

The Private Bin (indicating the wine was made for Auction) Chardonnay 2003 was quite oaky but complex and a good example of a serious food wine, my permanent companion for the evening as I was vegetarian that evening. Nederburg Wine Master’s Reserve Pinotage was not as impressive as the name though it was well made. For Rs.1600-1800 retail price in Delhi and Gurgaon, it’s a good bet for the Pinotage lovers-soft tannins, fruity but not very long. The Nederburg Cab Merlot 2000 showed its pedigree well. Though I felt it was slightly over-extracted with a definite shade of bitterness on the palate besides astringency, Wilhelm explained it was because it was still young. It did demonstrate to my palate that I needed lamb, pork or the tenderloin barbecued dishes in the evening’s Menu to enjoy the combination, though the barbequed broccoli made a feeble attempt to dance with it on my palate. Chardonnay was well matched with the vegetarian fare.

Click For Large ViewNederburg Edelkeur 1977 was the pièce de résistance of the evening as far as the wines were concerned. Made from Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, it was dark brown in colour, fairly viscous and very lively and fresh on the palate with crisp acidity making it a welcome dessert wine. Wilhelm excused himself and stood up as he demolished it. ‘In my country, when the wine is older than your age, you stand up and drink as a mark of respect to the wine.' On a sudden impulse I got up too and grabbed the microphone and addressed the audience which was reminiscent of pre-1994 South Africa. Full House, almost 100% full with ex-pats enjoying the excellent dinner with exceptional wines! What a pity, I thought; it was a great opportunity for Indian wine lovers and gourmets to enjoy the evening, as I invited the guests  born after 1977 to come up and drink together with Wilhelm. One gentleman did get up and joined us as we applauded the Wine and Wilhelm.

Compliments to Crowne Plaza Gurgaon to have maintained the food quality standard in Bushfire Restaurant and Aspri to have been bold and joined the Nederburg Auction to bring some of the beautiful  wines from South Africa. Wilhelm Pienaar may please take a bow as the person helping to produce them!

Subhash Arora

For a recent article penned by our Guest Writer Yegas Naidoo on the Nederburg Auction, please click: Nederburg returns with Authenticity, Exclusivity and Social Grandeur

Tags: Nederburg, Wilhelm Pienaar, Jan Du Bruyn, Distell, South Africa, Aspri, Two Oceans, Nederburg Private Bin Selections, Nederburg Auction, Arun Kumar, Crowne Plaza Gurgaon, Bushfire


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