Andrea Freeborough head winemaker at Fleur du Cap was chosen as ‘South Africa Woman Winemaker of the Year’ in 2010.
‘Is that not a tad sexist ?’, I asked when we met at Dublin’s Dylan Hotel.
‘I suppose you could say that, but you must also remember that the South African wine industry is heavily male-dominated. We women winemakers are in a small minority, so this competition helps us to confirm our identity’.
So- is there a competition for black wine-makers ?
‘No- we have very few black people in the wine-making side of the industry. But the number is growing and will grow further as more black people go through the educational system.’
The ‘Woman Winemaker of the Year’ gong was awarded for Andrea’s exceptional 2009 Fleur du Cap Noble Late Harvest which won three gold medals in London. ‘They changed the rules this year. Instead of interviews, the award was made for the best wine submitted to a blind tasting’, she says.
Late harvest wine is a niche product in South Africa as it is in most of the world’s wine regions and in everyday life Andrea is concerned with making the Fleur du Cap whites and reds from 17,000 tonnes of grapes grown for the company by 45 contracted farmers. ‘We set high standards of quality and our viticulturalists ensure that the grapes are grown and nurtured according to our specifications’, she says.
From the very first vintage released in 1968, Fleur du Cap wines have been vinified, blended and aged at The Bergkelder, one of the most advanced underground cellars in the southern hemisphere built into the hillside of the Papegaaiberg. In 1979, the company began the maturation of quality wine in small casks of new French oak and in 1998 The Bergkelder launched the reserve range of Fleur du Cap Unfiltered wines. Each of the wines in the unfiltered range is made of grapes from a specific vineyard block or a blend of two vineyards. Owing to the traditional hands-on approach in the cellar, these wines are not filtered resulting in rich, complex wines that abound with fruit and flavour.
‘Our Bergkelder range includes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc and the reds include Pinotage, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Our unfiltered range includes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Grenache, Viognier, a white blended wine and a Cabernet/Merlot’. At the top of the range is our ‘Lazlo’ , named after the pioneering South African winemaker Julius Lazlo, whose experiments with making wine in different oak barrels, moved world winemaking forward in the 1980s.
Andrea was not born into the wine industry. Daughter of an East Cape accountant, she was a teenager before she first visited a vineyard. It was a holiday on a Helderberg wine farm while still at school which led her to a winemaking career. ‘The minute I visited a vineyard and winery for the first time, I knew that this is what I wanted to do’, she says.
She took a degree course in oenology and viticulture at Stellenbosch University and was about to depart to Australia when she was offered a job at Neethlingshof working with great South African winemakers Schalk van Westhuizen and Philip Constandius. ‘They were very different in their approach- in the way they did things in the cellar and the winery and I learned a lot from both of them’, Andrea says.
Unlike many young South African oenology graduates who pack their bags after graduation, Andrea never moved outside of her country. Indeed this was her first visit to Europe.
‘Jobs are scarce in South Africa, so many people travel to gain experience. I was lucky to get a job at the start of my career and I have not worked abroad because the work at Fleur du Cap is challenging and rewarding and also because I have two young children.’, she says.
The South African wine industry is growing in volume and stature, she says. The World Cup raised the profile of the country around the world and the industry is capitalising on this positive vibe. ‘We have some excellent quality wines and we want the world to know about them. We also have Pinotage and the Pinotage Association is doing fine work in promoting this South African speciality.’
Fleur du Cap, she says, is responding positively to worldwide downward pressure on prices and is producing wines that meet the demands of to-day’s consumer.
Fleur du Cap wines are distributed in Ireland by Febvre and Company.