Winemaker Profile - De Wet Viljoen

De Wet Viljoen might be young but he's got loads of enthusiasm and impressive credentials that more than qualify him for the enviable job of Neethlingshof Estate's winemaker.

Having grown up on a wine farm near Worcestor he must have learned a lot about wine growing and making, simply by osmosis. But, being the youngest of five children, he was not about to inherit the family farm so he went to Stellenbosch University to get educated instead, notching up a B.Sc. in Microbiology before finally reconciling his roots and studying Oenology and Viticulture.

So after seven years, two degrees and a Maties first team rugby cap, De Wet, unsurprisingly, developed a love for Stellenbosch and its environs, which is why he is so glad to be back, especially as winemaker for Neethlingshof. He has spent the last two and a half years as winemaker/viticulturist at Wamakersvallei Winery in Wellington. In his time there several of the wines notched up an impressive list of medals both locally and abroad, including 3 double gold Veritas medals during his last vintage there. Their Cabernet Sauvignon won the trophy for the best Cabernet Sauvignon at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London last year, while the Pinotage made it into last year’s ABSA Top Ten. Interesting that the Lord Neethling Pinotage won the same trophy, though for Pinotage, at the IWSC and was also listed in the ABSA Top Ten, for the last three years in a row. So I guess it’s safe to say that Mr Viljoen feels comfortable handling that sort of quality.

In his typically understated way, Viljoen describes all this as merely ‘growing up with his wine’, a practice he learned firsthand while working two harvest at Kendall-Jackson’s California cellar, La Crema. Here in the Russian River Valley along the Sonoma Coast, finesse and fruit intensity are achieved through the winery calls ‘artisan’ winemaking. Hand-picking the grapes in small binds to prevent undue bruising, hand sorting the fruit and cold soaking the reds to enhance fruit flavours and intensify colour. “I was exposed to a very intense level of winemaking at Le Crema,” he says, “where an annual harvest of 6 000 tons is processed. It taught me that you don’t have to compromise when you work on a large scale.” So therefore quantity is also not a problem for this gentleman.

But he’s not just pleased to be back at his Alma Mater; De Wet is really looking forward to making wines from the enviable terroir of the Stellenboschkloof, of which Neethlingshof takes up a sizable chunk. He’s a Francophile at heart, having spent several holidays there, and the terroir on the estate lends itself towards the making of classic French-style wines, as apposed to the New World style wines made in warmer regions.

“You start with a very clear idea of what you want but you can’t follow a recipe to get there,” he explains. “It’s more a case of developing an understanding of the vines - knowing them, not theoretically or generically but tangibly. It’s a relationship you conduct on a localised scale, where you chart the soil changes within each vineyard, and through the vineyard management techniques you use, come to know what you can expect from each section of every vineyard. If you get the basics right, it’s far easier for the wine you make to express its origin and personality. The rest follows naturally.”

Neethlingshof Wine Estate