With a passion for making quality MCC, Wade Roger-Lund of Jordan is the 2017 Young Winemaker of the Year. By Jayne Nankivell
What inspired you to become a winemaker?
My grandparents owned a small farm between Robertson and Bonnievale, where I’d spend the July and December holidays. My grandfather would explain what was happening and would take me to Ashton Co-op to buy their sparkling grape juice. I always felt cool having my ‘bubbly’ while they had theirs. At the age of 16, I was allowed to taste some wines, and the wine that really stood out for me was the Constantia Uitsig Semillon made by John Loubser, which won him a Diners Club Winemaker of the Year award. This peaked my interest in what wine could be, that it wasn’t just alcohol, but an expression of many different factors. At that point, I was hooked on wine but never really considered it as a career option until I was 19 and John invited me to take part in a harvest at Steenberg Vineyards – I loved it!
Describe your career path…
My career path started a bit later than most in that I took three years off after school to do some travelling and took part in sports. In 2010, I decided it was time to do a harvest and make sure that winemaking was what I wanted to do. After this harvest, I enrolled at Elsenburg and completed my studies in 2013. I then moved on to Steenberg as assistant winemaker for the year 2014. At this point, I decided that I needed to do an overseas harvest and chose Bordeaux because I didn’t have much experience in producing high quality red wine. While in Bordeaux, I was contacted by Sjaak Nelson and Kathy Jordan, and offered the assistant winemaker position at Jordan. I was delighted to accept and joined Jordan as soon as I returned from Bordeaux.
Tell us what makes Jordan unique…
The owners have planted the farm according to which varieties work in specific locations – they approach planting in a very methodical way to ensure that only the best grapes come from the vineyard sites. The location of the farm is also special as it has vineyards on all four aspects with undulating slopes, thus allowing us to take full advantage of the macro climates of the area.
The other thing that makes Jordan unique is that we’re a great team of people that all have a vested interest in taking the farm further and further… And for this reason, I am lucky to be the face behind the wine because, as they say, ‘Team work makes the dream work.’
What is your winemaking philosophy?
My philosophy focuses on being as minimalist as possible when you have the best grapes. If we focus on producing great grapes and put all of our efforts into the vineyards during growing season, I have a much easier job to do, apart from deciding what I want to get out stylistically and ensuring that nothing goes wrong. In essence, I am very hands on when needed, but if not, will just let nature take its course.
Tell us about your entry…
My entry is Jordan’s Blanc de Blancs Méthode Cap Classique 2015, a first for Jordan Wine Estate which is surprising considering that Jordan has such a great legacy of producing world class Chardonnay.
Stylistically I wanted to do something in-between that of your standard South African MCC’s, which are a much leaner, austere, green apple style of bubbly and French Champagnes, which are a lot richer and more serious. The grapes come from a small block located on the crest of our main hill that gets early morning sunlight but not excessive afternoon sunlight. The soil up there is also really well drained and has a high pH, which allows me to pick the grapes at 19°Bx but then still have an acidity of 13 g/ℓ, which allows me to take advantage of putting the wine through Malolactic Fermentation in order to help draw out that nice richness and mouthfeel.
The wine has now been sitting in bottle on lees for 24 months before it was disgorged, and at disgorgement the residual sugar was only taken up to 3.5 g/ℓ and no higher due to the level of richness that the wine naturally has.
What food would you pair with this wine?
I find that this wine pairs well with anything from pizza to sushi. My personal opinion is that MCC’s aren’t just celebratory drinks; they are wines that can be enjoyed anytime.
What does winning the award mean for you?
It’s a great accomplishment for mer personally as it justifies all the effort and stress that goes into making an MCC, as I feel theyre the ultimate wine tomake at high quality level.
What are your plans for the future?
Although I’m very happy at Jordan, it’s inevitable that I will need to move up. So eventually, I will probably move to another estate as head winemaker. My passion for MCC will continue because my five-year plan is to start producing MCC under my own label. This is already in the early stages so I hope to put my first vintage in the bottle in 2019, and then release the first run in 2021.
What has been your biggest learning curve as a young winemaker?
I’d say it’s how little your studies prepare you for the real world of winemaking. You know the theory and you’ve done some practical work, but when something out of the ordinary happens, you have to take the initiative and come up with a course of action. When this happens, the most important thing is to trust yourself.
What are your top tips for aspiring winemakers?
Keep learning. Download articles and studies, read up on what is going on in the industry and what researchers are doing.
I think one top tip I can give is to pay attention to what is happening in your vineyards – to make good wine you need to have an in-depth knowledge of what your vines are doing, and this requires time spent walking through blocks and seeing how they are progressing. This helps you become a more proactive winemaker, instead of a reactive winemaker.
Which wine would best describe your personality and why?
I think I can be described as a good, single varietal Cabernet Franc – intense up front with a firm structure and backbone, but soft and approachable deep down.
What do you love most about your job?
I love that our industry never stands still and that we are continually dealing with forces beyond our control. As a winemaker, I always need to be on my toes and be ready to react to the unknown, which also means that we will never settle on a set ‘recipe’. Each vintage will be special in its own way and it’s up to us to make a success out of it.
Aside from winemaking, what are your passions/hobbies?
Since the age of four, I’ve been racing motorbikes. Apart from my fiancé and winemaking, this is my life. Even though I’ve put full-time racing behind me to focus on making wine, I still have my race bikes and ride them as often as I can. It helps me keep my body fit and my mind at ease.