Young or old, winemakers only have so many chances to get it ...

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Young or old, winemakers only have so many chances to get it right

Yet Peter Ferreira, Graham Beck’s 30-year vintage winemaker, rarely fails to put fizz in his craft

Michael Fridjhon

One of the problems confronting dedicated winemakers is they have only limited time to pursue their craft: one vintage a year, one chance every 12 months to manage the growing season, the harvest, the winemaking. Since the difference between good wine and great wine — all other things being equal — lies in infinitesimal tweaks, they need to know everything about everything: soil, vines, pruning, harvesting, small-batch fermentation, choice of barrels, time in oak — all the science, all the accrued knowledge. You also need the time to watch what you’ve made evolve in bottle. Sometimes you only realise, years down the line, that you have to change how you’ve always been pressing the fruit or managing the fermentation.

If, like Pieter Ferreira, you get to run a cellar from your early thirties, maybe you have 40 chances to get it right. Some vintages will never make great wine, so you do what you can, but they were never in the running. At best you can hope for five or six attempts to achieve vinous perfection.

New wineries usually have young winemakers. Old wineries often have older winemakers. There’s little surprising about this. Recently graduated wine buffs try to define their own aesthetic — think any of the rock-star establishments created in SA in the past two decades — so they build to embody their vision. Eben Sadie left Spice Route to create his enterprise; the Mullineuxs left Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards to develop their eponymous cellar...

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