The way he effortlessly makes his way from table to table during wine tasting sessions bellows his almost perfect decision to settle on a career in wine making. There is a clearly a rewarding formula that Wilhelm Pienaar uses to approach life and wine.
Appointed in 2009 to make Nederburg’s red wines, Wilhelm holds an MSc in Viticulture, Oenology and Marketing from the esteemed University of Montpellier and a master’s in viticulture from the University of Stellenbosch.
We sat down with him to get some insight into a day in the life of a modern day winemaker.
How did you get into winemaking?
Despite the fact that my dad was a wine maker, it never occurred to me that that would be a career that I could pursue, because as a teenager I had set my mind on playing cricket in England. I had about 3 months before the seasons started, so I spent some time with my father’s friend, a wine distributor, and as I was working in the warehouse, I got exposed to different types of wines from around the world and it was very exciting for me and there I made the decision that I wanted to become a wine maker like my dad.
Is Winemaking an Art or a Science?
It is definitely a good combination of the two. Sometimes it can be more of one than the other but it is always a mix of both, it is very intertwined.
What difficulties have you faced in your winemaking career?
I am an optimist so I see challenges as an opportunity for you to improve and change the way you think. My first position was in a winery that produces Champagne wines and Sparkling wines and I was really passionate about it, so when I came to Nederburg and I had to change my focus to red wines, it was a daunting challenge but I realized that it was the best opportunity I have ever had in my life, and I changed the way I think and the way I work.
What is your favorite wine you have made, what makes it your favorite?
At the moment, it would be a wine in the Heritage Heroes range: a range of 5 different wines, each of which tells a story about a hero in the Nederburg history. One of them, the Motorcycle Marvel, pays homage to the man who was the Cellar master for about 33 years. It is currently my favorite, I am passionate about the varieties we worked with and the reward in it.
Which wine that you currently do not make would you like to make?
I would like to create a high end Pinotage, we currently do make Pinotages but I would like to make one that falls in the fine wine category.
Who is the one person in the world, dead or alive, you’d like to share a bottle of your wine with?
My father. We have a very close relationship and our personalities are very much the same: I remember a time my mum told me that you are just like your father, that is the best compliment anyone has ever given me. So it would definitely have to be my dad because the conversation would continue long after the wine is finished.