Heard it through the grapevine

Would a ca­reer in vino suit your palate? Jo­lette Steyn, wine­maker of Steen­berg Vine­yards, gives us a taste of what it’s like.

Glamour (South Africa) - - Work -

Jo­lette Steyn, 31, be­gan her ca­reer as some­one who had no idea of the ca­reer path she planned to fol­low. Her in­ter­ests were wide, in­clud­ing French, art, chem­istry, bi­ol­ogy and travel, and her thoughts boomeranged from study­ing jew­ellery de­sign or lit­er­a­ture to tak­ing up pae­di­atric neu­ro­surgery.

Un­de­cided, she took a gap year and went to au pair in France. She was on a break, trav­el­ling through Italy with friends, when the talk turned to wine­mak­ing. And there it was – a field that en­com­passed all of her pas­sions, and then some. A few months later, she re­turned to SA and reg­is­tered for Oenol­ogy and Viti­cul­ture at the Uni­ver­sity of Stel­len­bosch. Post­grad­u­ate stud­ies in France, Italy and Spain fol­lowed, and now, with 10 years in the field, she’s the per­fect con­nois­seur when it comes to ex­pert ad­vice.

The daily grind

The wine­mak­ing sched­ule is sys­tem­atic but er­ratic. If we’re har­vest­ing grapes, pick­ing and pro­cess­ing is be­tween 2am-4am and bot­tling be­gins at 6am. But a nor­mal day starts be­tween 7am and 8am.

Depend­ing on the sea­son, I may be work­ing the vine­yards, blend­ing, bot­tling in the cel­lar, or la­belling and pack­ag­ing among other things. I work with a team of four cel­lar guys, 15 lovely pro­duc­tion ladies and gents who help to get the grapes in and the fi­nal la­belled prod­uct out.

Then there are the tast­ings I host for restau­rants, ho­tels, cor­po­rates or groups, as well as wine shows to at­tend. And in be­tween that, I brush up on wine his­tory and trends. To put it sim­ply, we’re on a boat and I’m try­ing to keep it afloat.

My work phi­los­o­phy

Wine is a story – of the place, the peo­ple, the past and the fu­ture, and I like to think of it as a time cap­sule. And so, I be­lieve in mak­ing hon­est wines, which means work­ing with what the ter­rain and na­ture have pro­vided. I don’t want to force my per­son­al­ity or opin­ion onto the grapes!

I also be­lieve that a wine­maker who re­spects the ter­ri­tory, cli­mate and sea­son is able to pro­duce wine that is in­tri­cate and com­plex, yet hon­est. For ex­am­ple, if there were fires in the area and we had grapes hang­ing out­side at the time, there would be a smok­i­ness to the wine.

What I love about my job

Vines are in­trigu­ing and fan­tas­ti­cal, and I love watch­ing them de­velop from the vine­yard to the bot­tle. And then there is the plea­sure of tast­ing and talk­ing about wine!

Get­ting into vini­cul­ture

I started my wine ca­reer by work­ing in the tast­ing room, but there are many ways to dab­ble in the field be­fore study­ing it. One of the great­est wine­mak­ers I know started as a bus boy at a restau­rant.

Maths, chem­istry, physics and bi­ol­ogy are key sub­jects to study, but in France, phi­los­o­phy and an­thro­pol­ogy are also re­garded as cru­cial, and I highly rec­om­mend in­tern­ships af­ter your stud­ies as these are a great way to di­ver­sify, learn and see how dif­fer­ent peo­ple ap­proach the field. Wine is like art in many ways: there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way, merely in­ter­pre­ta­tions.

The good news is that more and more fe­male wine­mak­ers are ris­ing through the ranks, which opens ex­cit­ing ca­reer pos­si­bil­i­ties. It’s also chang­ing the ap­proach to wine­mak­ing.

My favourite wines

I love Porse­lein­berg Syrah for beau­ti­ful win­ter days and cosy fires, as well as in­ter­na­tional wines, like Ger­man Ries­lings and Pinot Noirs from France.

Want to study wine­mak­ing? Check out these op­tions. Stel­len­bosch Uni­ver­sity

sun.ac.za The In­ter­na­tional Wine Cen­tre thewine­cen­tre.co.za Elsen­burg Agri­cul­tural Train­ing In­sti­tute elsen­burg.com

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