Samuel Viljoen

Nederburg red-wine maker
Nederburg Wines
Samuel Viljoen, Nederburg red-wine maker, gives everything to his winemaking and is very in tune with his team. "We are like a band of brothers who spend more time with each other than with our families.” But he never loses his sense of balance.

Nederburg's red-wine maker, Samuel Viljoen, gives everything to his winemaking and is very in tune with his team. "We are like a band of brothers who spend more time with each other than with our families.” But he never loses his sense of balance.

"Don't take life too seriously otherwise you won't get out alive. Keep yourself rooted and make your colleagues part of the journey, not the wheel of the vehicle to get to where you are going."

What this 30-something winemaker loves most about his job is that he is contributing to some of the most meaningful moments in other people's lives. "It gives me such a great feeling when wine lovers tell me about the Nederburg wine they served to announce an engagement, to toast a birthday, to honour old friends or new ones, to celebrate a new job or a rite of passage. I feel proud and humbled at the same time."

The Stellenbosch University graduate in viticulture and oenology who was born in Bredasdorp, was assistant red-wine maker at Nederburg for seven years before taking on his current position.

Previously, he worked for a mix of small and large wineries, from the highly acclaimed American boutique cellar Domaine Serene in Oregon's Willamette Valley to the large volume Goudini Winery in Rawsonville with its accent on mainstream markets.

"My obsession with detail probably springs from those days in Oregon, where every tiny barrel of wine was treated as something truly precious, but then so was every larger tank. Big or small, everything was regarded as important and that emphasis has never left me."

His previous South African experience also included stints with Klein Constantia, Fairview and Longridge.

He enjoys the countervailing forces of his role. "You have to be very analytical but also learn to trust your intuition and your taste buds. You need structure but flexibility to work with as many as 23 different varieties at any given time. You must be able to enjoy making minute quantities of special collectible wines and on the same day, switch to making popular wines for global markets, and you must feel at home creating classical but also original, very different wines."

As a winemaking student, his first holiday job was as a vineyard worker at Klein Constantia. "There was no special treatment for me as a student. I was treated like any other worker and picked up skills like pruning and trellising on the job. That's when I began to realise that theory can only teach you so much. I also learned that winemaking is not a solo pursuit. It's totally a team effort and you need everyone's buy-in."