Welcome to Winemakers Wisdom!
Boela Gerber was a load of fun to chat to and we thoroughly enjoyed his great sense of humor. Boela is originally from the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town, and started his career at Stellenbosch University. Boela lives on the property, at Groot Constantia, with his family. They have just welcomed a baby to the family.
Boela started off his career as a sidekick wine maker at Stellenberg and then worked at a small winery called Brickety Brick before proceeding to Groot Constantia. Boela has been on the farm for 17 years and certainly has a lot to teach us.
We picked Boela’s brain on a number of questions and this was what he had to say:
What do you like best about your job?
It is a great mix of being outdoors and expressive. It is seasonal, not the same day in and day out. And obviously doing something I love.
What is the most difficult aspect of making wine?
We work with nature. Every Capetonian knows how marginal the weather can be, especially the last few years resulting in the current droughts. We have to make a lot of decisions in winter already with pruning and again in spring with canopy management based on what we guess the weather conditions in January to March is going to be. It is part of the game, you have to be alert to changes, adapt, and react quickly. It is part of the fun, I suppose.
What is one aspect of your job that might surprise people?
I have absolutely no idea what people’s expectations are. How about: we don’t drink wine all day?
Can you tell us about the harvest process and how long it takes
Harvest at Groot Constantia is long, because we make such a big range. We usually start the harvest with Chardonnay for the MCC sparkling wine in the second to third week January. Then we get to the still wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage and Merlot in February and Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz in March. When all the dry wines are done, we wait for the sweet wine, the Muscat for the Grand Constance, which can be any time from middle April to even early May in extreme vintages. That is a quarter of the year gone.
What do you look for when you make wine?
Our philosophy is to minimize the winemaking influence, and only translate the flavours that the beautiful Constantia Valley gives us from the vineyards into the bottle. We place a lot of emphasis on drinkability when we make up our blends. The wines should be complex, balanced and elegant.
How do you know when you’ve got a good vintage?
It’s difficult to quantify, you develop a gut feel over time. A good vintage starts with a cold winter, healthy conditions in spring and no extremes in early summer. All of this will show in the vineyards – no stress (yellow leaves), no sunburn on the grapes, even ripeness (no ripe and green berries on the same vine), no excessive vigour/growth (from too much rain) or rot. As you get closer to ripeness/picking date, you can taste the berries and actually taste some of the fruit characters in the berries. We take regular samples in the vineyards and analyse the juice. A basic chemical analysis will also give you an indication on the potential of the harvest. But the proof is obviously in the tasting. I have seen it before that the conditions check all the boxes, but it doesn’t show in the wines. After harvest, after fermentation, we reassess and do another evaluation. But wine changes continuously. It is also possible for a wine to be very shy after fermentation, but develops and opens up in barrel, or even in bottle, to show beautifully after a year or two.