'Now my friends who studied to be doctors, want to be winemakers'

December 28, 2015, 11:51am

Jenna Etheridge, News24. Photo: Supplied to News24

Cape Town – Abrie Beeslaar first sipped wine as a boy around the dinner table. His school holidays in Worcester were structured around the grape harvest.

But he only considered wine making as a career when he failed to make the cut to study medicine. The world of wine opened up to him after he enrolled for a BSc in Agriculture.

Beeslaar, 41, is the cellar master for the Kanonkop Wine Estate in Stellenbosch and was recently crowned Winemaker of the Year at the International Wine and Spirit Competition gala in London.

It is the second time he has won the trophy.

"I am so happy about my career path. I look at my friends who studied to be doctors and they all want to become winemakers now," he says with a laugh.

The win made him very proud, but came as a big surprise. He had only known that Kanonkop would be awarded SA Producer of the Year, and receive the Best Pinotage trophy for the Kanonkop Pinotage 2012.

It is a feather in his cap as the Pinotage grape, with strong South African origins, is getting more attention internationally.

Beeslaar says it is unfortunate that when people have bad Pinotage, they judge the grape rather than the producer.

"God made perfect grapes; it’s just how we manage it in the cellar that is a problem," he says sagely.

Concocting Pinotage wine requires more effort and time in the cellar, but can be very rewarding.

"The quality of Pinotage in South Africa today is worlds apart from what you found 20 years ago. We have come a far way from where we were."

Dry year

Beeslaar's work revolves around the seasons. Between January and April, the focus is on how grapes are growing and when to harvest them.

"This year has been quite dry and relatively hot, but also high humidity because we didn’t have too much wind. You have to be in sync with these conditions."

It is not unusual to work 20 hours a day during this period. Beeslaar works "normal office hours" in the months that follow and uses the time to market his product.

He can be found pruning the vines between July and September to get the "best shape and quality".

Being a cellar master has allowed him to work with "strict sciences" such as chemistry, biology, and maths.

He lives on the estate with his wife Jeanne and their two young children. His kids are "pretty up to scratch" on what goes into making a good wine.

If he is not with his family during his downtime, he can be found hunting, fishing, or on the golf course.

"I never get bored. It’s new and different every time. You get a product at the end of the day and your efforts reflect in the wine. It’s satisfying to see people enjoying it."