John November

Winemaker: White Wines
Zonnebloem Wines
Zonnebloem’s white-wine maker and an avid cyclist, doesn’t have much time for his hobby at the moment. Although he is planning to compete in the Cape Town Cycle Tour in March and loves mountain-biking with friends, training has to take a bit of a back seat.

Right now he is in the throes of what is turning out to be one of the earliest and most intense harvests and the only time he can devote to riding is early on Saturday mornings and on Sundays. He lives halfway between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek and uses his beautiful Boland location to cycle out to Paarl or over the Helshoogte to get a good workout. Could he cycle to work? “Oh no, we are way too busy for that right now!”

“This is my first harvest at Zonnebloem and I’m tremendously excited. The drought has meant that the crop is smaller than in previous years, although it’s too early to say how much. The grapes are very healthy though with lovely, concentrated flavours that we’re capturing in the cellar. The big challenge is the juggling to get all the grapes in at optimal ripeness, but we’re managing so watch this space!”

Some of the 2015 vintage Zonnebloem whites will be released later this year.

In the evenings, John November (31), used to watch his dad, a draughtsman, sketch the wine cellars he’d visited as part of his working day.

As he followed his father’s sure, swift hand, conjuring lines, curves and corners, something stirred inside him. He imagined himself in those same quiet, cool cellars, where one day he could create an artistry of his own.

That’s why, when he took a gap year after school, he grabbed the chance to accompany his father on his cellar visits where he would watch the arrival of the grapes of the new harvest and experience the edgy, nervy excitement and anticipation of the cellar team. He’d see them sorting and crushing the fruit, and sometimes he’d be allowed to witness the various stages of the vinification. Punching the caps, stirring and rolling barrels, inserting the long glass “wine thieves” into the barrels and tanks to taste. “Every moment was filled with excitement! This was exactly what I wanted to do.”

The very next year he enrolled at Stellenbosch University to study viticulture and winemaking. “I grew up in the Boland, in Pniel, and wine is such an essential part of the local culture and economy that it was a natural progression for me.”

He was lucky enough to be mentored in his final year by Miles Mossop of Tokara, who guided him through his first harvest.

After graduating, he joined Distell in 2007, learning how to make sparkling as well as red and white wines, first at Die Bergkelder and then at the Adam Tas Cellar. Here, he worked with the then cellar master, Deon Boshoff, and also Elize Coetzee, who recently succeeded him. After a stint back at Die Bergkelder as assistant white-wine maker for Fleur du Cap wines, he moved to J.C. Le Roux where he was appointed winemaker. At the end of 2015 he returned to Adam Tas as a member of the Zonnebloem team.

He’s immensely proud to be involved with one of South Africa’s best-known and well-loved brands. Amongst his favourite wines is Zonnebloem’s Limited Edition Semillon. “In the early days Semillon was widely planted at the Cape. Today it’s more of a niche varietal. It’s a pity because it makes terrific wines and they age really well. Right now, my favourite is the 2007 vintage which after nine years still drinks beautifully.”

When he’s not working, John likes to stay fit and enjoys jogging, mountain-biking and road cycling. He is a regular competitor in the Cape Town Cycle Tour. “But don’t get me wrong, I’m not just a land-lover. I spend as much time as I can at the sea. There’s nothing like a fresh crayfish you’ve dived out yourself paired with an ice-cold bottle of Zonnebloem Sauvignon Blanc. Every sip and every mouthful spell summer!”