Winemaking Team: James Ochse

It was the wrong advice about an overseas working visa that ultimately led James Ochse (pronounced Oosh) to become an assistant red-wine maker for Zonnebloem.


It was the wrong advice about an overseas working visa that ultimately led James Ochse (pronounced Oosh) to become an assistant red-wine maker for Zonnebloem.

The super-focused, 26-year-old graduate from the University of Stellenbosch, after working harvests in Marlborough in New Zealand and Napa Valley in California, was all packed and ready to leave for Devil's Lair in the Margaret River region of Australia, when he heard the news that his visa application had been rejected. It turned out he'd been told to apply for the wrong type of visa. To start all over again would have entailed too much bureaucracy and too much time, and the harvest would have been virtually over.

Staying in South Africa, he worked a harvest with Flagstone Winery instead but then set his sights on France later in the year, securing work at the very prestigious Vignobles André Lurton in Bordeaux. His plans changed though, when he heard about a permanent job at Zonnebloem.

"A friend heard about the opportunity and told me to submit my CV. I was absolutely ecstatic to hear I'd been accepted. Usually I hate it when people say setbacks occur for a reason but in this case, it's absolutely true. I was obviously meant to be in South Africa!"

He'd made both red and white wines before coming to Zonnebloem in 2013 but, given that reds are his absolute favourites, he couldn't be happier. "I'm a huge fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, probably because I was introduced to the grape by my uncle, Kevin Arnold of Waterford Estate.

"Tasting his wine taught me what was possible. He ignited my interest in winemaking and it seemed the right fit for my personality. I'm very physical and precise but also adaptable."

Otherwise he might have gone into accountancy like his sister. Both his parents are teachers: his father, of accounting, and his mother of business economics.

"Cabernet might be the grape that holds a special place for me because it's demanding to grow and to make - and I like a really good challenge - but if you were to ask me to choose one wine in the Zonnebloem range - and I rate them all - it would be our Shiraz/Mourvèdre/ Viognier blend. It literally bursts with fruit and yet is layered and complex..

"Being here has also taught me about the nuance and precision you need in blending. When it came to adding the Viognier for example, I learned that less is definitely more. Its aromatics can be very intense but with just a dash, it rounds off the wine in a really amazing way. Give me this blend with lamb shanks (I'm still mastering my mother's recipe), a side of springbok or a T-bone and I'm all set!"

He has worked in big and small cellars but what he really likes about Zonnebloem is the sense of being part of a team. "There's an incredible bond here, a collective feeling of pride in the continuity of one of the great names in South African wine. It's not so much that we are carrying on with a tradition but that we are reinterpreting a classic, keeping it current and contemporary."

Zonnebloem Wines