Proof of the efficacy of the Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé Programme …
My story starts in a place called Mitchells Plain where I grew up with my family. Mitchells Plain is what one would call a ghetto, a township on the Cape Flats south-east of Cape Town where Cape coloured people live. While staying there I was exposed to many things (mainly due to the socio-economic circumstances of people living there) such as gangsterism, drugs, alcohol abuse and violence because of alcohol abuse.
While growing up I did not want to be like the people I was so used to seeing – impoverished, aimlessly hanging around on street corners, and intoxicated on their chosen substance. I also had my grandmother who was like an angel. She supported me and always pushed me to do and be better because she did not have the best upbringing and she always reminded me of that.
So, as you can imagine, when I had decided on my career choice my family wasn’t too pleased with the idea of me becoming a winemaker. They also wondered where on earth I came up with this idea. Especially when in my own family there were people suffering with alcohol and drug addiction.
However, that did not stop me. Lack of knowledge comes before man’s downfall; and with that in mind I looked forward and started my career in winemaking at Elsenburg Agricultural College where I was introduced to the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) and the Protégé Programme in my final year of study.
I applied to join the CWG Protégé Programme and was successful. The CWG Protégé Programme is a great initiative that employs newly graduated winemakers that come from previously disadvantaged backgrounds and gives them the opportunity to work with and be mentored by some of South Africa’s best winemakers. There I worked with and was introduced to some great winemakers who have challenged and shaped me personally and professionally. I worked with David Nieuwoudt (Cederberg Wines), Charles Hopkins (De Grendel Estate) and Carl Van de Merwe (DeMorgenzon). With the CWG I have attended the most amazing tastings and courses. In my three years with the Guild I accomplished what would have taken double the time or even longer without it. During the three years in the programme I also worked internationally in the Rhône Valley, Sancerre and Russian River Valley.
Upon my completion of the three-year CWG Protégé Programme I was approached by Duncan Savage to join him in his new urban cellar in Salt River as assistant winemaker, where I was introduced to Brookdale Estate, where Duncan is consultant winemaker, and owner Tim Rudd. I worked at Savage Wines while being involved with the bottling of the maiden 2017 vintage of Brookdale wines.
When Duncan and Tim approached me about the position of winemaker at Brookdale Estate it was a no-brainer. Without realising it, I had been slowly transitioning over to Brookdale and it was perfect. I had already become so familiar with the wines, people and property there. Brookdale Estate is a bit like Cinderella. When Tim Rudd purchased the property, it was completely dilapidated. The vines and most of the property were totally overgrown with weeds but, like the fairy godmother, Tim stepped in with the help of Duncan Savage and Adam Dirkse and completely turned things around. Beneath the overgrowth we found granitic soils and beautiful old-vine Chenin Blanc. Top sites have been planted traditionally as bush vines, and now one can see the true splendour of the estate that is surrounded by breath-taking views of the Du Toitskloof mountains.
Since being at Brookdale a lot has changed and is continually changing. Thanks to Tim’s open-mindedness and his willingness to take a chance and invest in people, we are pushing boundaries and planting some interesting varieties in Paarl such as Petit Manseng. We’re making a 16-variety white field blend and a 20-variety red field blend (among others) and we are about to build a cellar that a girl like me can only dream of.
I work together with Adam (Ampie) Dirkse, pictured above with me, who is an absolute gem. He is the vineyard manager at Brookdale Estate and has spent most of his life working with vineyards. Ampie is old school. He comes up with solutions you cannot find in textbooks and is such a great source of knowledge. He has taught me how to drive a tractor and I will take on bigger implements in the future (this is a big feat considering I come from the city but think I am a farm girl at heart).
My passion for people and for helping others has grown substantially; and Brookdale Estate shares in that. We really invest in the people working with us and truly desire for them to grow out the circumstances they find themselves in as a lot of our workers come from areas that are similar to where I grew up and worse.
Now, a couple of years later, because of education and patience, my family has really started to accept my career and is proud of what I do and who I am – so much so that I can now bring wine to family events and enjoy it with them (something that didn’t happen in the past).
It has been an interesting journey in the wine industry thus far. A journey that is continually teaching me, reminding me to walk with patience, humility, resilience and adapting to an ever-changing environment. Despite the pandemic and a challenging vintage where we were faced with a national drought and raging forest fires that threatened our crop, we still managed to produce our best Brookdale to date, Mason Road Chenin Blanc, and we look forward to sharing this with the world.
I look forward to continually learning and making great wines that showcase the terroir at Brookdale Estate.