Johann Fourie from KWV’s wine journey
10 December 2015
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Welcome back to the next edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. I’m Brad Brown and it’s a great pleasure to welcome a returning guest onto the podcast today. We spoke to him a while ago about the success that KWV had at the Young Wines Awards.
I said in that podcast, we’d get him back to talk a little bit about his journey into wine and the industry as a whole and it’s a wonderful privilege to be able to welcome the chief winemaker at KWV back onto the podcast, Johann Fourie. Johann welcome, nice to catch up once again. Let’s start off where your journey began. Where did it all start for you?
My journey into wine
Johann Fourie: I didn’t start out knowing that I wanted to be in the wine industry. I come from the Overberg which there’s no vines in sight for a couple of kilometres so I initially went studying agriculture. I always took interest in plants and insects and microbiology and our family was involved in crop protection at that time so I went studying.
It was only when I got to Stellenbosch and was surrounded by vineyards and as students do, you take a couple of wine tours on weekends, that the bug got hold of me and I could see there was more to it than just growing grapes. I could extend my interest to the winemaking side of it which really ticked a lot of the interests I had at that time and still have. Let’s be honest, it’s much more exciting drinking wine than eating a bunch of grapes, so that’s primarily how it all unfolded.
It was luckily, by the time the bug got hold of me, I could still change my direction in studying just to adapt it more and focus more on the winemaking and viticultural side of things so I had to put my head down. They only allowed 10 winemakers to study winemaking a year back then.
Luckily made it into the final year and went working in Rawsonville for a couple of years, travelled a few countries, did a few international harvests. Was a dream come true to join a brand like KWV with all its heritage and traditions and the fine products you get to work with over here so that’s where I am today.
BB: Johann you mentioned the travel and being part of a couple of international harvests, how important is it, would you say for young winemakers to experience that? To do their studying, get that behind them and then go out and really sort of look what the world has to offer from a wine perspective?
Great experience to learn internationally as well
JF: Ja, very important. It’s the beauty of the winemaking community globally, is that it’s the sheer passion for the vine and the product you’re making so no one’s got any secrets. You’re always welcome in any wine region of the world.
It’s very common for winemakers to travel and go into vintages in other parts of the world, us going north and the northern guys coming south. Because obviously our harvests are at different times of the year and it’s just for cross-pollination. I would say for South Africans maybe more important, given that we’ve been in isolation until very recently so for us to go out there and see what the rest of the world is doing is quite important.
Because we haven’t been up against their products onto the shelves internationally so we had some catching up to do and hence winemakers from South Africa may be travelling more today than many other parts of the world.
BB: Where did you end up, where have you experienced some sort of international flavours so to speak that’s influenced your winemaking here in South Africa today?
JF: Obviously the first stop for, I think many winemakers, is France. So I travelled all the main winemaking regions of France. I did two vintages in France. I worked a bit in Germany as well but then I’ve also travelled on many technical tours to Spain, to Italy and Austria. Just returned from Chile and Argentina so wherever you go you learn something, you take something that you share with the guys, you bring something back home, you implement it.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s the beauty of what we work with. Some stuff you can apply back home but some of the techniques is not applicable back home but that’s part of the exciting part of winemaking. You can never master it. Everyone’s soil and growing conditions are different, the winemakers are different.
BB: You mentioned KWV and the strength of the brand and the sort of products that you get to work with. Did you feel, I mean was there a bit of pressure on you when you joined KWV that here’s this strong brand in South Africa and you’ve got the opportunity to leave your mark on it or, I mean, there must have been some pressure. It must be pretty exciting to know that too.
I enjoyed the pressure of joining KWV
JF: Ja, I think you said it. Pressure is a good thing. For me pressure is exciting. I think it brings out the best in you. I’m only the sixth chief winemaker at KWV so there comes a bit of, I would more say, responsibility and we’ve got this in-house tradition that you have to hand over the quality and the product in a better state than what you received it in.
By the time I joined it was already known for the quality so ja, it’s a big responsibility to keep on improving on the quality year on year but I think we’re doing fairly well. We’ve had this Young Wines Show result recently but also for four years in a row we’ve come out tops at the Veritas Wine Awards which is seen as one of the two biggest wine awards in South Africa.
Which is an all-time record in the history of the competition so I’d like to believe that we’re doing a few things well. But there’s so much more that we can do, in my opinion, at KWV in terms our quality. It’s going well but we are only scratching on the surface and it’s a matter of “watch this space” I would want to say.
BB: You mention the word ‘quality’ and the South African wine industry’s an interesting one and it’s growing, it’s exciting. How would you compare the quality of South African wine, not just what you’re doing at KWV but from an industry in general with what you see on an international stage?
JF: There’s no doubt about it, just looking at the international wine competitions where we get benchmarked against the rest of the world and South Africa is not only holding its ground, it’s out-performing many of the old world wine producing countries. So absolutely, the industry has caught up and I think, in the process has gone beyond many of the old world countries as far as quality goes.
Maybe we’re not as foolish as it comes to the old world countries when in terms of the prices we demand for our product but that’s a focus for the industry and something we’re working on but in terms of quality we’re right up there with the best in the world, no doubt about it.
BB: Ja, no doubt about that. KWV’s quality is definitely up there. Johann Fourie thank you so much for joining us on this episode of Old Mutual Live, chief winemaker for KWV, much appreciated. We look forward to catching up again soon and I think we’ll get you on maybe in a month or two from now, just talk a little bit about KWV as a stable and what you’ve got to offer and also the balance between getting the sort of solid brand that you’ve got but introducing new things into the market too. I think we’ll save that for another day. Johann Fourie, thank you so much for joining us today. We look forward to catching up again soon.