New winemaker has 10 year plan at Avontuur

Jan van Rooyen with nearly two decades’ worth of winemaking experience, was recently  appointed at Avontuur Estate as winemaker.  Although starting officially on the 3rd of January 2011, Jan had helped out during the latter part of 2010, which made it easier for him to get into the swing of things and very importantly, prepare for the harvest which starts later this month.

When asked about his objectives for the wines,  he cagily said that he has a 10 year plan, but would love to build on the foundation laid by his predecessors and  improve on the quality of the premier range wines, especially the Chardonnay.   He plans to concentrate on producing great Reds from this farm’s  incredible Helderberg terroir and have fun with the bubbly, the brandies and the noble late harvest.

To get to know Jan a bit better and find out more about his plans for this new era at the winery, we asked him a few questions:

1.    WHICH WAS THE FIRST WINE THAT MADE ANY SENSE?

In 1993 whilst working at the Department of Agriculture, I organized tastings for some of my colleagues and discovered a 1973 bottle of French Sauvignon Blanc in a dusty storeroom.  For a laugh, I decided to include it in the line-up, but great was my surprise and pleasure, when it turned out to be fantastic!  That really made me think about what I wanted from my winemaking career.

2.    TELL US ABOUT YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT WITH WINE

I was in my first year of study at Stellenbosch University and was included in a tasting with my professor and senior students where we had to score the wines.  I decided – in my “wisdom” – that a Nederberg Edelkeur was only worth 11 points, to the absolute shock and derision of the co-tasters!  As my prof said drily:  “Well he’s honest at least, but has a long way to go….”  Years later when my own noble late harvest achieved double gold at Veritas, I thought: “Yes prof, and eventually I got there!”

3.    MY BEST FOOD & WINE EXPERIENCE WAS….

I am a huge bubbly fan and in my 4th year at varsity Mo?t & Chandon launched a dessert-style bubbly in the most beautiful, mini-packaging.  I immediately decided to arrange a 100% bubbly-paired  meal and invited 4 friends.  Obviously I had to fork out for the Mo?t, but everyone else also  brought samples of the best they could afford. I cooked my heart out and we had bubbly from the welcome drink right through to the dessert which culminated with my exclusive Mo?t!  I believed then and still do, that bubbly should not only be kept for special occasions or celebrations, and this meal proved my point.

4.     IF YOU WERE NOT MAKING WINE, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?

I read fiction, listen to a wide spectrum of music from contemporary through to jazz and opera and when I’m on holiday at the beach, love foraging for fresh mussels off the rocks.  Hobbies which I wish I had more time for, include fly fishing and golf.

5.    MY LAST GLASS OF WINE WOULD BE…

… a tiny, but perfect crystal glass filled to the brim of the world’s most famous noble late harvest dessert wine, Chateau D’Yquem.  I’d rather wave farewell to the world with a gorgeous sweet mouthful than anything else!

NEW WINE ERA DAWNS AT AVONTUUR ESTATE

It’s the start of a new era in wine at Somerset West winery Avontuur Estate, with the appointment of a new winemaking team from 1October 2008.  Young winemaker, Natalie Nel (25) takes over  in the cellar and will  be assisted by oenological expert, Charl Theron.

“This is my first position as winemaker after completing my studies at Stellenbosch University in 2007,” says Natalie.  “ I am the youngest and the only girl in a family of three kids and they have always supported me in my dream to work in the wine industry. My dad is a great wine lover and the rest of the family are learning fast!”

Natalie assisted previous winemaker Adèl van der Merwe in the cellar for the last two years and therefore has a good grasp of the stock in bottle,  tank and barrel, as well as knowing the winemaking team well, which ensured a smooth takeover and continuity.

Charl Theron needs no introduction as he was a lecturer in Oenology at Stellenbosch University for many years and is still a guest lecturer. His list of  achievements include a stint at at KWV at director level as well as many other leadership positions in the industry.  He has an ongoing commitment to improving the quality of South African wines as proven by his memberships of  organisations like the SA Brandy Foundation, the Wine & Spirits Board, Winetech  and others.
Natalie Nel, Avontuur Estate’s new winemaker
and Charl Theron, Oenological Advisor, in the
vineyards at Avontuur.

Regular invitations to chair or participate in the judging panels of local and international wine competitions including Veritas, the Terroir Awards, the ABSA Top 10 Awards and many others, are a testament to his standing in the wine community.  His international credentials and experience will assist Avontuur with creating the right products for the export market and to build on their already successful  export programme.

Charl proposed a three point plan for Avontuur Estate which kicked off at the start of October with an intense period of assessment of current wine stocks with the winemaking team.  By early November decisions will be taken with management on the current stock situation and future ranges to be produced to ensure a market-driven product.

From mid-November he and Natalie will be very involved with preparations for the 2009 harvest and Charl will obviously be on hand throughout the harvest to assist and mentor vineyard and cellar staff where needed.

“I  offer Avontuur my own expertise as well as the services of a network of other experts to call on throughout the winegrowing and making process.  I want us to be innovative and creative in our outlook and Natalie and I both believe in experimentation, so therefore we look forward to creating new and exciting wines for the local and international market.” Charl concluded.


“Great wines are made in the vineyards. The passion and hard work that goes into controlling disease and nursing vines through the early part of growth, goes hand in hand with harvesting and, ultimately, the enjoyment of the vintage. There is nothing more rewarding than someone else enjoying a glass of wine that you painstakingly nurtured.”

Adèl van der Merwe, winemaker, Avontuur Wine Estate.

Adèl van der Merwe has been appointed wine maker at Avontuur Estate in the Helderberg region of Stellenbosch.

24-year old and passionate about wine, this is her first position as a fully-fledged wine maker.  “I love the idea of creating something beautiful out of a natural product like great grapes,” she says.  “Being involved with the process from the beginning right through to that moment when the wine is poured, is what gives me a thrill.  I’m very excited about the opportunity at Avontuur and see it as a wonderful challenge!

After completing her B.Sc Agric(Vini & Viticulture) degree at Stellenbosch university, Adèl worked at Hartenberg Estate and Waterford Estate to gain experience.  A stint in Germany, added to her knowledge.

Adèl takes over from outgoing wine maker, Willie Malherbe on 1 July

The adventure has begun!

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