Q&A with Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker

Words: Crush

It’s no mean feat making wine – especially for a brand such as iconic Nederburg. But for the young Chandré Petersen, assistant white winemaker at Nederburg, it appears to be something she was born to do – even if it took her well into her university years to realise it! We sit down with her to find out about her wine philosophy and just what makes her tick.

Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker
Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into winemaking?

Chandré Petersen: I was born in Paarl in the beautiful Cape Winelands and have lived here for most of my life. Initially I was set for a career in commerce, but during my first year at Stellenbosch University, where I was enrolled for a BCom, I met some winemaking students and when I discovered what it was that they were doing, I was completely captivated.

My father, a nature lover, also played a major part in my decision to change course and the following year I enrolled at Elsenburg to study viticulture and winemaking.

I was intrigued and kept tasting, tasting, tasting, so that I could build up my wine vocabulary and a memory bank of smell and flavour references. Many of the references other people were using didn’t have any meaning for me, but I quickly found my own. I would nose a glass of Sauvignon blanc and think: that reminds me of the khaki bush shrub my father planted at home. And so I carried on finding my own cues until I’d created my own compendium.

What was your progression to becoming part of the Nederburg team?

Chandré Petersen: After graduating in 2011, I was accepted as a Cape Winemakers’ Guild Protégé. The three-year programme gives young winemakers the opportunity to be mentored by some of the Cape’s foremost winemakers. I worked with Bernard Veller, Charles Hopkins and Miles Mossop. I also spent three months working in California for Pinot noir specialists, Calera Wine Company. Shortly after my three-year stint, I was appointed at Nederburg as assistant white-wine maker.

Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker
Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker

Did you know much about Nederburg’s winemaking history before starting there?

Chandré Petersen: I’ve lived in Paarl all my life so I’ve always been aware of the winery and its role in the community. I’m excited to be here, working on my home turf, but more than that I’ve always been impressed by Nederburg’s innovation and the tremendous respect it shows for the environment. This makes me proud to be a part of the team.

I was lucky enough to meet cellar-master, Andrea Freeborough, when I was a student.  I was impressed by the depth of her knowledge and her willingness to listen to other viewpoints. She’s an amazing role model – as a winemaker and as a woman. And so is Natasha Boks, who makes the whites under Andrea’s direction. I’m learning so much from them.

Who are you as a winemaker?

Chandré Petersen: I see myself as a passionate, results-driven winemaker. I am inspired by exploring new destinations or wine regions across the globe.

Winemaking is a lifestyle and will remain mine. Just thinking about wine and making wine, unleashes an explosion of happiness in me!

Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker

How would you describe the winemaking philosophy of Nederburg?

Chandré Petersen: At Nederburg, we subscribe to a wine philosophy that combines tradition with innovation and it shows in the wines. They offer a complexity and structure of the old that is fused with the refreshing fruit vitality of the new.

Our winemaking ethos is based on a deep respect for the land, the people involved in the growing and maintaining of the vineyards, those in the cellar and of course, wine lovers, who are entitled to the very best quality at every price point.

I also believe that wines are made in the vineyard, and should involve as little interference as possible.

What is an average workday like for you?

Chandré Petersen: Every day is different. That is part of what I love so much about winemaking – the excitement every new day brings. There’s so much we can’t plan for, given that we work with nature.  That means that what we can plan for, is crucially important. In general, the average workday involves a lot of tasting, planning and interacting with my fellow winemakers and our viticulturist, especially in harvest time. I strive to end each day with a smile of satisfaction.

Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker

What do you love about the Paarl winemaking region?

Chandré Petersen: Paarl, fondly known as the pearl of the Cape Winelands, is just breathtakingly beautiful with its majestic mountain scenery and rolling hills covered in sprawling vineyards. The area is surrounded by the scenic Groot Drakenstein, Franschhoek and Klein Drakenstein mountains to the south, south-east, and east.

The Paarl Wine Route, the second oldest in South Africa, is well regarded especially for its rich, full-bodied, spicy red and crisp white wines.

The climate is typically Mediterranean with long, hot summer days and cooling afternoon breezes, making it a conducive environment to grow a variety of grapes such as Shiraz, Pinotage, Mourvedré, Grenache, Chenin blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier.

Winters are mild with generous rainfall, supplemented by irrigation from the Berg River, considered the life-giving artery of the Paarl winemaking region.

The geography of the area is also very diverse, allowing vineyards to flourish at a variety of altitudes. What I also love about Paarl is its rich heritage. Winemaking here dates back to 1688 when the French Huguenots were granted farms in the Drakenstein area of Paarl.

Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker

I love Paarl’s rich heritage. Winemaking here dates back to 1688 when the French Huguenots were granted farms in the Drakenstein area of Paarl. Nederburg was established in 1791, when Philippus Wolvaart settled here to build a life and a home. The Old Cellar Museum, located on the farm, tells the story in wonderful artefacts and pictures.

I also love the many nature reserves in the Paarl area.  My father and I are passionate about nature and often hike together in the surrounding mountains.

What has been your favourite wine to make so far?

Chandré Petersen: Definitely, the very first wine I could call my own, named Euphoria. This is the wine I made as a participant in the Cape Winemakers’ Guild Protégé Programme.

It’s a 2013 vintage Pinot noir, made from grapes sourced from the Ceres Plateau, an area that offers the ideal climatic and geographic conditions for the growing of top-quality Pinot noir.

I crafted this wine by hand and just love tasting it, again and again, experiencing how it develops with time.  It’s an elegant wine with good backbone (just like me!).

I also love being involved in the making of Nederburg’s white wines, especially The Anchorman Chenin Blanc from our Heritage Heroes collection. The 2016 vintage earned platinum at the 2017 Decanter World Wine Awards and was highlighted by the judging panel as South Africa’s best Chenin blanc priced at over £15 in the UK (approximately R250).

It offers ripe apricot, orange and floral characters laced with oak spice and minerality. It is a really interesting and expressive wine that is a blend of very differently vinified components.  It succeeds in combining a bracing freshness with complexity.

Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker

What excites you the most about the South African wine industry?

Chandré Petersen: In short, the incredible culture, history, people and ongoing innovation.

It’s well-known that the South African wine industry has been exciting huge interest, especially since the start of the decade. It has been a dedicated work in progress beginning 21 years ago with the advent of democracy. The year 1994 did more than open international trade, it opened the hearts and minds of local winemakers. It gave them broader context and prompted massive plant improvement and viticultural programmes to better reflect terroir and to develop new wine-growing areas, all of which provided the foundation for more innovative winemaking.

Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker

Industry observers, commentators and tastemaker are increasingly saying the South African wine industry has come of age.  Our winemakers have found a voice and a confidence and it is showing in the new generation of individual and expressive wines.

Well-known British wine commentator Tim Atkin MW, a close observer of our local wine industry, has become one of our most vocal supporters in recent years, highlighting the bold originality and often trail-blazing stylistic evolution of South African’s wines, a view now increasingly shared by other internationally prominent critics. The industry’s ability to offer value across a spectrum of wine prices and styles is also seen as a particular advantage.

Atkin stated in his 2016 South Africa Special Report that “a winning combination of better viticulture, the development of new wine regions and the emergence of a young generation of wine-making talent make South Africa the most dynamic wine-producing country in the world right now.”

It’s an honour to do my part to help build our local wine industry and its reputation.

What has surprised you most about wine culture since getting into the industry?

Chandré Petersen: The fast-changing profile of wine drinkers. More and more consumers are making wine their tipple of choice. Millennials, in particular, are increasingly contributing to sales in the wine category. It’s been widely noted in international markets, but can also be observed in the South African context.

Millennials tend to spend more per bottle of wine, try more adventurously, spend more on wining and dining, and drink more responsibly than similarly aged consumers of previous generations. They are also thought to appreciate innovation, authenticity, provenance, and story-telling, and support brands that support causes.Wine as a product can tick many of those boxes.

Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker
Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker

What has been the most challenging aspect of winemaking?

Chandré Petersen: Climate change is certainly a challenge. Many South African wine producers, including Nederburg, are introducing Mediterranean varietals better able to withstand drier and warmer conditions, and so far, the results have actually been very exciting.

At the same time, new wine-growing areas are being developed along the coast, further inland, (like high up in the Matroosberg Pass, for example, where Nederburg has vineyards) and in the southern Cape. South Africans have always shown themselves to be very adaptable and I think that’s very true of our wine industry.

Another thing I find challenging when it comes to winemaking is to stay focused on my vision for a specific wine. Winemaking trends are important, but as a winemaker, I also carry the responsibility to make the best wine possible from nature’s abundance.

Achieving good balance in a wine also doesn’t come easy.  In fact, every step of the winemaking process is a challenge in itself (just think of the incredible pressure winemakers work under during harvest time) but I don’t see that as negative. That’s what keeps me stimulated and excited about winemaking.  There is always more to discover.

Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker

What is the most rewarding part of being a winemaker?

Positive ratings and awards, as well as satisfactory comments from consumers when tasting wines that I had a hand in making. Just knowing that I was involved in crafting a product that brings enjoyment to people – that is something I find really rewarding.

What advice do you have for other young winemakers starting out?

Taste, taste, taste!  Build your wine vocabulary and memory bank of smell and flavour references. Taste different wines from various producers. Be out there, be brave, speak your mind and ask questions.

Go overseas and work in different wine regions, get as much harvesting experience as possible. Stay true to the person you are and honour your dreams. Don’t waste time.  Believe that the possibilities are endless, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Wine drinking and tasting can be intimidating for some as there is an expectation that you recognise certain aromas and flavours; what would your advice be for those new to wine drinking?

There is no right or wrong when it comes to tasting and drinking wine, only guidelines to help wine drinkers best appreciate the product. Consumers new to wine shouldn’t be made to feel intimidated.  We should really guard against creating Oenophobia, a fear of wine.

Chandré Petersen, Nederburg Assistant White Wine Maker

I would also advise new wine drinkers to taste various wines and find those that really resonate. When tasting wine, use all your senses and relax. Your palate will very quickly tell you what your preferences are. And these might develop over time.

I also usually suggest to those new to wine to spend time on building up a memory bank of smells and tastes.

Quickfire Questions

If you weren’t a winemaker, what would you be? An international traveller (I wish!).
When you’re not drinking wine, what are you drinking? It depends on the season, but generally speaking, I also love gin and beer.
Favourite comfort food? The typical South African braai.
Best way to unwind after a stressful week? Good wine, good food, good conversation, fun and laughter.

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