Winemaker Interview: Grettchen van der Merwe of South Africa
8 months ago threadsandvino 0
This week I was lucky enough to meet Grettchen van der Merwe. Grettchen is a winemaker and viticulturist from South African who exports wine grapes to the US for home winemakers and wineries. She studied at the University of Stellenbosch to become an oenologist and has worked in the wine industry for over 10 years. When she fell in love with a citrus farmer, she moved to the citrus capitol of South Africa, far away from the wineries she used to work with. Luckily, surrounding the citrus farms are gorgeous mountains full of high quality wine grapes for her to make wine with. When I met Grettchen I knew instantly that wine is not only a profession for her but also an absolute passion. Her enthusiasm is contagious. I feel very privileged to have met her and she is great role model for future women winemakers of the world. Please read below to hear more about her story.
How did you get started as a winemaker? What first attracted you to winemaking?
I grew up in the Cape Winelands and studied Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch University. I love the process of winemaking, the chemistry of it. Wine is a living thing and it is wonderful to be able to make something with the potential to be enjoyed for years to come as it grows and matures in the bottle.
What do you look for when you make wine? What is your general winemaking philosophy?
It is all about the grapes, get the best grapes possible and make sure you have the basics right, but don’t try to over engineer the process.
What is the most difficult aspect of making wine? What’s or biggest challenge as a winemaker
You are working with nature so you cannot predict what’s to come in a season and every season has its own challenges. I think the most difficult are seasons where the vines are stressed, be it from high temperatures or wet weather that can increase risk of fungal infections in the vineyard.
Are you filtering your wines?
There is a movement toward unfiltered wines, especially as consumers become more educated and willing to accept a little sediment in the bottle. I do prefer to filter my wine, but use the most coarse (largest micron size) filter available. Basically just to give the wine a rough polish as it goes into the bottle.
Are there any new winemaking techniques or tools you’d like to experiment with?
They aren’t necessarily new tools, but you can achieve a lot with good use of enzymes and tannins at vinification. I like to cold soak my grapes before fermentation; you get the benefit of good color and flavor development without the harsh tannic extraction that happens after fermentation (when alcohol is present).
What’s your favorite wine region as winemaker?
Many different regions excel at specific varietals, which is part of what makes wine exciting, you can have a Syrah from South Africa; Australia and France and all three can be fantastic but also completely different in style.