Rüdger van Wyk – champion winemaker

Rudger van Wyk - South African winemaker

Like Kiara Scott, Rüdger van Wyk benefited from the Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé programme and how! See this guide to our recent South African coverage.

I started my wine journey in 2010, a ‘coloured boy’ hailing from the south coast of South Africa from a town called George where I started my first year at Stellenbosch University. With years gone by and passion growing for the grape, little by little I eventually graduated in 2013.

What made the whole process so scary was that in 2013 as a young student, I had no clue what the future held for someone entering an industry where transformation was a taboo subject.

I still remember clearly that in my fourth year we were approached by Magda Vorster, facilitator for the Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé programme. She showed us all the amazing things that the programme provides and basically told us that the sky is the limit. After a few interviews with winemakers from the Guild I received the great news that my application was successful and that, starting in 2014, I would be part of the Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé programme.

In 2014 I had the opportunity to work at Kanonkop with Abrie Beeslaar as my mentor. What an amazing opportunity this was, having a whole year to pick his brain about winemaking, and the message was always clear: excellence, excellence, excellence.

In 2015 I made the decision to join Nitida in Durbanville. The reason behind this was that I wanted to gain experience making white wine in a cooler area. I was always arguing with myself that I need to build up my experience in everything I do, so that one day when I would apply for a job, that I would at least have covered both a premium red wine producer and a good white wine producer with a smaller set-up. My idea was that employers would give me a chance looking at my CV rather than throwing it out because of the colour of my skin.

2015 was the game changer. In this year I had the opportunity, through the Guild, to do a harvest in Burgundy. But first I had to go through two operations on my shoulder, get healed, and book myself a ticket to Burgundy.

A week before the Burgundy trip an opportunity arose for an assistant winemaker position at Stark-Condé wines in Stellenbosch. That was when everything changed for me. I got the job and was also granted the opportunity to go ahead with the Burgundy harvest. How beautiful and exciting it was. I believe every young winemaker, granted the opportunity, should do a harvest in France. It changed my mind about everything. Life, winemaking and made me realise that if I wanted to ‘shake the boat’ in the industry, I needed to buckle down, work hard and let my wine do the talking in an already disadvantaged industry, not only in South Africa, but the world.

With years gone by I applied myself to work hard and learn as much as possible from José Conde, owner of Stark-Condé not just about making wine in a cellar but how the industry works, how to sell a wine, and obviously trying to balance the books at the end of each month.

Working at wine shows, I was always misjudged for a runner for ice or someone who works in the tasting room. That was the perception that the general consumer had of me while I was pouring them a glass of wine.

In 2018 I was awarded Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year what a great achievement! I felt relieved. All the hard work and hard decisions came together that night in the luxurious La Residence hotel.

Achievements: I don’t really like to talk about this but it’s obviously great that my peers recognise the work that we put in.

  • 2015 Oude Nektar 91 points, Wine Advocate
  • 2015 Oude Nektar 98/100, Tim Atkin MW’s South Africa Special Report
  • 2016 Oude Nektar 96/100, Tim Atkin MW’s South Africa Special Report
  • 2017 Three Pines Cabernet 95/100, Tim Atkin MW’s South Africa Special Report
  • 2017 Three Pines Cabernet 91 points, Wine Spectator
  • 2016 Three Pines Cabernet 91 points, Wine Spectator
  • 2015 Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Top 100 Wines, Wine Enthusiast
  • 2017 Three Pines Syrah 92 points, Wine Spectator

I have started a joint venture with José Conde creating a new brand called Kara-Tara. The brand is focused on sourcing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from cool-climate vineyards from across the winelands to provide great-quality, amazing-value wines. The wines are exported in several different countries, especially the UK, and were featured in February 2020 in Wine Spectator’s ‘Nine Pinot Noirs for $30 or less’. We work with two great importers, Museum Wines in the UK and Vineyard Brands in the US. The idea is to expand and try and make the brand successful all over the world.

This is my journey. I am 29 years old and I feel I have even more to give our industry and the global consumer. So far my journey looks amazing and I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to do all of this. For some other winemakers or people in the industry (people of colour) it hasn’t all been rosy nor reasonably successful. The industry has come a long way in transforming and I believe strongly that it’s at the best stage it has ever been referring to quality wine and transformation. But we still need to work harder because there is still a lot to do to give people of colour a voice and opportunities. I have an older brother who is also a qualified winemaker who worked in the industry but he didn’t have anything like the opportunities that I’ve had. And we were raised in the same house with the same morals and goals: TO BE SUCCESSFUL.