Fram Wines – Thinus Kruger’s own speciality
16 October 2015
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Brad Brown: Welcome back to this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now, chatting some more wine today and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome our next guest onto the podcast. He’s doing some amazing things and that’s why I wanted to chat to him today, Thinus Kruger, Thinus welcome onto Old Mutual Live. Thanks for joining us today.
Thinus Kruger: Ja well guys, thanks for having me.
BB: Thinus you’re doing some amazing and different things at Fram Wines at the moment and that’s what I wanted to chat to you a little bit about. I love the website and I love the way you describe yourself but for people who haven’t heard of you yet tell us a little bit about Thinus Kruger and Fram Wines. How did it all come about?
The story behind Fram Wines
TK: Well, ja I mean I was working, I was making wine for another company, one of the producers in South Africa, and I mean I really enjoyed it. I love that I still have a good relationship with all my old bosses. I wasn’t ever fired fortunately or unfortunately and then one day I said do you know what, I enjoy my work but I’d like to see what’s out there if you make your own wines.
You know you source your own vineyards and you try and make a style that you think speaks of those grapes and about those vineyards from a specific year and basically that’s how I ended up being my own boss. I mean sometimes the hours are better when you work for yourself but there’s not a lot of leave and there’s not a lot of money in it in the first year or two when you need to pay for everything and it’s just sitting in a bottle but you know that’s the pros and cons of being your own boss.
BB: Thinus tell me a little bit about what you’re doing at Fram Wines because it’s very different and I mentioned the way you describe yourself. I mean on the website you say you’re the CEO, the president, winemaker, grape crusher, sole employee, and number one fan.
It’s a, I don’t want to say one man show because there’s a lot of work that goes into it but like you say, when you work for yourself the buck stops with you and you need to make sure that everything’s taken care of.
TK: Ja, I mean obviously there’s certain things that I can’t be responsible for like last year it was or this year, the 2015 harvest, I mean it was quite dry and then the crops are a little bit smaller. In a vineyard that I might have gotten off maybe 8, 9 tons this year or last year in 2014 I only gave half of it. But you mean there’s not a roof over the vineyards.
I have to work with what I get and but then once the grapes arrive, like you said you have to be responsible, you have to decide what’s the style that you are looking for. The style I’m looking for at the moment is definitely something that’s more fruit driven.
I’d like to have more purity in the wines so they need to be focused and you know, there’s a lot of other people in the South African wine industry at the moment that’s trying not to use any natural or any yeasts or commercial yeasts so we use natural yeasts or yeast that’s naturally in the grapes. We don’t acidify so you know you have to take some different things into account when you decide to use that, go down that road.
BB: Talk to me a little bit about that fermentation process. From someone who’s not intimately involved with the winemaking process, how big a shift is that in the way of thinking when it comes to, I don’t want to say conventional winemaking but it is very different.
How hard is a more natural fermentation process?
TK: Ja, sometimes you can’t really call it natural yeast because all yeast whether you buy a commercial strain, it’s still the same, it’s still Saccharomyces cerevisiae but then there’s different strains within that so actually the process itself for an outsider would look fairly, you know would look pretty much the same.
It’s just when you do use yeast that was on the grapes naturally so you don’t add any commercial strain to that, I think often when you add a commercial strain it’s like you add, that strain would dominate the fermentation. But when you use a natural yeast, especially at the beginning of the fermentation there’s not only one strain.
You have like different yeasts in there and they can actually add a little bit of complexity and a little bit of something extra to the wine so you don’t have one man doing the job so you have five or 10 people starting the job and all contributing their different aspects to the wine.
BB: Thinus tell me a little bit about the range of wines that you guys do produce at Fram Wines. What would you consider your flagship to be?
What wines we offer
TK: Ja, at the moment I do four and a half wines. I’m going to bottle another wine in the next week or so, so I have two single vineyard or well, single sites should I say wines and these are, I suppose what other people would call a flagship, so it’s a Pinotage and a Chenin Blanc.
The Pinotage is from one farm, Old Bush Vines, so sort of planted mid-1980s north of Clanwilliam. It’s about 20km north of Clanwilliam and then you turn left into the mountains and the hills. It’s not a place where you’d go looking for grapes necessarily.
It’s mostly around there, the people farm with rooibos so that’s where I get the Pinotage, the flagship from and I mean it’s one of those things. You know in the wine industry, I would never have gone looking for grapes in that area but a friend of mine, he knew about the vineyards and he thought about making it or he used to work with it so he pointed me in that direction.
Luckily most people in the wine industry, there’s no real secrets. Everybody’s helping your friends out and then the Chenin Blanc, some of it is from that area as well around Clanwilliam and some of it is from the Piekenierskloof Pas. Just as you go onto the pass you turn left and there’s a little plateau with vines on them.
So that’s the two areas that I use for the flagship wines and then on the more, shall we call it, medium tier wines I also have two wines, a Chardonnay, an un-wooded Chardonnay and those grapes are from closer to Bonnievale but it’s the Robertson area appellation that I’m using there. Sometimes I add a little bit of Chenin into that blend as well.
Then also I do in that range a Shiraz from Swartland area and in the Swartland is lots of different soil types but I try to, like the two, three major soil types. I try to get vineyards from those soil types and blend them because with the different yeast it’s similar in different soil types.
Some give you a heavier wine, a more structured, a more tannic wine and another soil type might give a bit more lifted aromatics, a bit more spiciness into the wine so I try to use different vineyards, different sites. I combine them eventually after maturation into a blend that I think shows all of those characteristics.
BB: Thinus as far as sourcing your grapes from different areas and different regions so to speak, what are some of the challenges that come with that as opposed to having it all on your own farm, on your own estate that you can sort of really keep an eye? Is it difficult to have to create wine with grapes from different regions like you do?
The art of creating wine with grapes from various locations
TK: I mean there’s definitely advantages to it. The fact that you can have different profiles from the different areas. But on the negatives or on the difficulties that comes with it, obviously if you just have a look at the map and you see where I make the wines just outside of Malmesbury so it’s about 200km north to the vineyards close to Clanwilliam, it’s about 200km in a completely other direction to the vineyards around Robertson, that area so there’s obviously the challenges.
The fact that I, you know you have to get to the vineyards but you also have to be in the winery making wine so sometimes you know, that means driving out late in the afternoon or in the evenings or like in 04:00 in the morning.
Having to get up and drive to those places to go check up on the vineyards during harvest time because you want to make sure that you pick on the right time when you’ve got freshness and sugar and all the components you’re looking for in the grapes.
BB: Thinus talk to me about the philosophy of Fram Wines. When you started it you obviously, you had gone from being employed into doing your own thing. What have you hoped to achieve by starting out with this venture?
TK: Ja, I mean lots of people have asked me that and I think one of the big things that I wanted to achieve was to see if you, if you know you give it a shot because you always have ideas. About you know, maybe a wine should be like this or maybe a wine should be like that.
When you’re working for perhaps a more commercial venture you have to bear in mind that there’s a style associated with the product already and you can’t always do exactly 100% the style you’re looking for. But when you do become your own boss you can focus the wines in a direction that you think they should be.
Obviously if I go to my friends that’s also a winemaker, if we worked with the same grapes we’ll end up with completely different wines because the way I’m seeing the wine, the grapes, the vineyard and the future what a wine should taste like and one of my friends perhaps they see something different in the future of that wine so there’s no right way.
I’m not saying that the wines I’m doing, that’s the sole expression of a Citrusdal Mountain Pinotage or a Swartland Shiraz or something like that. That’s just my expression and a style that I think shows the best side of those wines and that’s one of the great things about winemaking that there’s different people who would work with the exact same grapes and the final product would still be just as good or even better but be completely different as well.
BB: It’s almost like a painter, we’re using the same paint and the same canvas, and if you give it to two different painters you’re obviously going to get two different products.
TK: Ja, I know a lot of people talk about art and wine. Personally I’ve never in my life, have I heard the winemaker mention that for winemakers it’s, I think they look at it more like a craft, more like, it’s maybe like a, you know it’s something you learn whether you learn to become a boilermaker or something like that.
Because you all start out with the same products and you have to learn by making mistakes many times over but ja, there is that sense that we all start with the same ingredients basically and in the end the canvas or the bottle of wine or whatever you’d to call it is completely different.
BB: Thinus tell me about the nautical theme at Fram. I see it’s a big thing in what you do. Explain that to me and where did that all evolve from?
The theme behind Fram Wines
TK: Well, obviously when you leave a corporate job or something like that, you have to have your own brand and some people, you know they associate with them personally, with the name or the surname but I’ve always been a restless wanderer. I’ve always really enjoyed the guys exploring the Arctic and the Southern regions.
So 100, 120 years ago so there was a famous boat called Fram which, it’s a Norwegian boat or if it was, it’s still a boat but now it’s a museum I suppose that 120 years sailed to the North Pole and to Antarctica and the name of that boat was Fram and it means ‘forward’ in Norwegian and it was just for me, it’s a fitting name.
You know back in those days the people explored the regions of the world where no one has been trying to see what’s happening there and what’s going on in those parts of the world. Now, in the South African wine industry, there’s also a lot of people exploring, a new generation exploring different vineyards, different sites, different ideas about wine and seeing what lies over the horizon.
BB: Brilliant, if people want to find out more about what you’re doing, Thinus, where can they find you online and sort of, are your wines widely available? Where can they get their hands on some of the wine you create?
TK: Ja, I mean at the moment it’s not, I mean I sell to individuals in Gauteng and I sell to one, basically in Gauteng I sell to one store that’s the Wine Concept Store up in Jo’burg. Then in the Western Cape I sell to a couple of restaurants so at the moment it’s more restaurants and individuals but I’m talking to one or two of the bigger people who have a bit more representation.
That’s one of those challenges, you know. Making wine it’s relatively easy compared to selling and marketing and distribution and logistics, you know. Perhaps if you come from that background, it would be easier for you, but if you come from a winemaking perspective, so ja, but I think best is for people to check out the website. It’s just framwines.co.za and they can get my contact details there. I’m on Twitter and I think I even have the Instagram account although I don’t think I’ve opened it in ages.
BB: I love it Thinus, what I’m going to do is I’ll put those links –
TK: I’m not on Facebook unfortunately because I don’t understand that yet.
BB: That might not be a bad thing, ja. I will pop those links to your website and to your Twitter and that as well in the show notes of this episode of Old Mutual Live so if people want to reach out and connect they can do that and check out your website as well and read up all about what you’re doing and so ja amazing, amazing wines so check it out, framwines.co.za.
Thinus Kruger, I’m going to get you back on in a couple of weeks’ time to chat a little bit about how it all started for you, your winemaking journey and what led you up to making that decision to go on your own and start Fram Wines. Thank you for your time today, much appreciated. We look forward to chatting to you again soon.