Christiaan Groenewald of Eagle’s Cliff Wines is Winemaker of the Year for the second time – with two wines in the final six. By Jayne Nankivell
How did you get in to winemaking?
I was exposed to the industry from a very young age as I grew up on the farm, where my father grew wine grapes. He didn’t make wine himself, but as a founding member and board member of the cooperative cellar, he was always involved in the industry.
After completing my army service and studies at Stellenbosch University, I worked as an agricultural economist and financial planner in the banking and insurance sectors prior to managing a wine export company, and, eventually started up New Cape Wines.
Your farm is situated in the Breede River Valley between Worcester and Villiersdorp. What makes this a good area for red wine?
Our valley has a very specific climate. We have nice warm days and cool nights, due to a breeze every afternoon that comes from the south – we call it the ‘Hermanus breeze’. We are also blessed with good, well-drained soil. In our area we get full ripe grapes, with good texture, fruit and colour. We have different slopes on the farm, which makes it ideal for different wine styles, that we can blend to make balanced wines.
How does your winemaking style differ from that of other winemakers?
I just use good grapes, do my best to adapt to the specific season and have faith. I don’t press too many grapes, if any at all. I prefer soft ripe tannins, but not harsh wines. I believe in blending different tanks and blocks to get the synergy I want.
What distinguishes the Arendskloof range from the Eagle’s Cliff range?
Eagle’s Cliff wines are excellent value for money and affordable. The idea is to put top-quality in the bottle, but still within reach for the wine lover. The Arendskloof range is something a little more special for the conoisseur.
What are your thoughts on the category for this year’s competition, Pinotage.
Pinotage is South Africa’s own red wine variety, so it is something special and unique to SA. It is very versatile and can be used to make many different styles.
You have two entries in the top six: Eagle’s Cliff Pinotage 2017 and Arendskloof Pinotage 2017. Tell us about them.
I always try to have something special in the bottle for this competition. The Eagle’s Cliff is very fruity with very little wood – a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. The Arendskloof is more serious, fuller, also fruity, but with more small barrel wood. It’s a perfect match for food. The Arendskloof is the big brother in the family.
What foods would you pair with these wines?
The Eagle’s Cliff will be best with light meals – I love it with chicken or lamb. The Arendskloof goes well with a good piece of steak, or even something spicy. Pinotage can be chilled and used as a ‘Pinot Noir’, in which case it goes well with salads too.
What has been your greatest achievement as a winemaker to date?
Winning the 2013 Diners Club Winemaker of the Year award, by far! It’s the most sought after award in the wine world and I think it’s a winemaker’s lifelong dream to win, but it does put pressure on you to keep up the standard set.
You won the award in 2013 for your Arendskloof Voetspoere Tannat Syrah 2011. What would it mean if you were to win again this year?
To win the first time blows your mind – you aren’t prepared for it. But to win a second time would be more than a dream come true and I will make the most of it. Also, to experience the Diners Club family again would be awesome!
What attributes do you believe have been key to your success in the industry?
I love what I do, it’s in my blood and I am blessed. I look forward to each day and can’t wait for the next harvest, to try something new and produce better wines.
What do you love most about wine and winemaking?
I enjoy the lifestyle, living close to nature, working with the best people in the world and the fact that wine is a social product that makes people happy. Winemaking is a creative process and to see how grapes develop into wine is just amazing.
Do you have a favourite wine?
No, I don’t think so. One day I love one wine, the next day another, and each wine is at a different stage of development. It depends on the ‘weather’.
Aside from winemaking, what are your other passions or hobbies?
I love the Kalahari, the sea and mountain biking. And I live for my two sons, Jacques, 18, and Nicholas, 12.
Which wine type best describes your personality and why?
For white, I’d say Chenin Blanc and red, either Tannat or Pinotage. These wines can adapt to different climates and seasons – there’s always something good to expect, even in a difficult season.
Tell us something about yourself that few people know.
I always think my wines can be better, that they’re not good enough.