Andrea Freeborough

Cellar Master
Nederburg Wines
She loves the fragrance of freshly laundered sheets left to dry in the sun: that elusive trace of soap, of cotton, of breezes and warmth. Then making the bed (it has to be done just so) and inviting the whole family to climb in with her - husband Michael-John and kids Leah-Jessica and Josh, everyone with a book in hand. Hers will probably be a Patricia Cornwell crime novel laced with spicy forens

She loves the fragrance of freshly laundered sheets left to dry in the sun: that elusive trace of soap, of cotton, of breezes and warmth. Then making the bed (it has to be done just so) and inviting the whole family to climb in with her - husband Michael-John and kids Leah-Jessica and Josh, everyone with a book in hand. Hers will probably be a Patricia Cornwell crime novel laced with spicy forensic detail.

Ask Andrea Freeborough, Nederburg's new cellar master, what that means to her and she'll tell you: "Total and complete bliss, especially if it’s raining." In summer, the landscape shifts to camping, but with exactly the same people involved.

It's not just the family bonding she loves. It's the smells of nurture and nature. "Obviously in my line of work, a sense of smell is absolutely critical, so it has become very developed. I'm very conscious of the aromas and fragrances around me. They give a mood and register because they are so powerfully evocative. Every morning, on the way to work, as I'm driving, I'm anticipating the smell of fruit and yeast and wood, of darkness and quiet, and I just can't wait to get to the cellar!"

A successful career woman who always makes sure there's also ample family time, she puts her juggling act down to good organisational skills and the ability to be flexible. "In truth, I'm a bit of a perfectionist and probably quite impatient but I've learned some restraint and to keep a balance, just like you need in your wine."

She admits that it's also about staying focused. At the age of 14, living in East London, she was browsing through a magazine and saw a picture of a vineyard. "That was it. Immediately I knew I wanted to be a wine farmer." Her parents recognised this wasn't some idle teenage fantasy and they arranged a holiday in Stellenbosch so she could visit the university and find out more. By the time she'd finished school, it was a done deal.

"In the beginning it was viticulture that stole my heart but after several stints in the cellar during my student days, I realised I actually wanted to be a winemaker."

Were there never any doubts? "Actually, once I thought of switching to a degree in music as I also play the piano but it was a very brief moment."

With an honours degree in viticulture, followed by another honours in winemaking, she began working as an assistant winemaker at Neethlingshof in Stellenbosch. "After my student exposure to a large, commercial cellar, it was interesting to be in more of a boutique environment and I got to make a range of wines."

Less than three years later she was appointed a fully-fledged winemaker, working under Nederburg cellar master Razvan Macici, producing the whites. "I arrived the day before the harvest and was so daunted by the scale of the cellar and its pedigreed reputation. I thought: what if I get lost in here, how will I manage and almost burst into tears. But there wasn't even the time for that. Things happened so fast and everyone in the cellar was so amazingly supportive that I just got on with it."

Obviously with great proficiency, because four-and-a-half years later, still in her very early 30s, she was appointed to head Distell's Die Bergkelder, a job she held for a decade before returning to Nederburg to take over from Razvan in mid-2015. "Being at Die Bergkelder taught me how to run a cellar, make wine, deal with a multitude of people, processes and departments and then come home and be a wife and mother."

It's a modest account of her working life, considering that many of her award-winning Fleur du Cap wines and others made under her direction, such as the celebrated Lomond range, suggest a woman of considerable talent and leadership skills, not to mention an ability to simultaneously produce specialty and popular wines. Just the ingredients to take over the helm at Nederburg.

It's a thrill to come back full circle to the cellar where she was mentored by Razvan and to be working with some of the old cellar hands who were with her back in the day, but also with a new generation of internationally-trained winemakers. There's also the familiarity of the smells.

Her favourite wines to make and to drink are Sauvignon blanc and Shiraz. She loves the refreshing lift of acidity a Sauvignon blanc can bring. "But it must combine both the tropical and grassy notes on the nose and palate." Her optimal Shiraz has a spicy, peppery lilt.

There will be quite a few of both to keep her busy, along with many other wines in the multi-tiered Nederburg range but she relishes the challenge.

She's excited by the scope and has many plans to continue with the behind-the-scenes experimentation begun by her predecessor, from wood-ageing strategies to new varieties and techniques.

"Nederburg is a very long-established name in wine with an extraordinary lineage, but if you look at what underpins that, you'll discover an appetite for innovation, backed by very rigorous disciplines. Razvan taught me well and I've had some experience of my own, so I like to believe I'm up to the task."