Each week, as regular readers know, Terroirist poses 16 questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Sebastian Beaumont, the winemaker at Beaumont Wines in South Africa’s Walker Bay region.
The 1000-acre property can trace its history to the 18th century, when it served as an outpost for the Dutch East India Company. Sebastian’s parents, Raoul and Jayne, purchased the estate in 1973, and soon replanted about 84 acres of vineyards and also started harvesting pears, nectarines, and apricots. (Most of the property is untouched, as it’s part of the Groenlandberg Conservancy in the Kogelberg Biosphere.)
Twenty years later, Raoul and Jayne started revitalizing the property’s old wine cellar – and together produced three vintages of Pinotage before bringing on a full-time winemaker, Niels Verburg. When Sebastian finished a degree in oenology Elsenburg, he joined the family’s wine estate as its viticulturist, and in 2002, he started making wines with Niels. Since 2004, he’s been the solo winemaker.
I met Sebastian on my recent trip to South Africa, and then caught up with him again just a couple weeks later at Cape Wine Europe. All of Sebastian’s wines are impressive — Beaumont was the first winery in South Africa to bottle a 100 percent Mourvedré, and the property also makes an excellent Shiraz/Mourvedré blend – but his top Chenin Blanc, named after his late grandmother Hope Marguerite, is truly stunning.
The grapes for the Hope Marguerite come from 30+-year-old vines, and the wine is barrel fermented in 400L French oak, relies only natural yeasts, is kept on its lees for 10 months (with regular batonage), and doesn’t undergo malolactic fermentation. It’s a delicious wine – I actually purchased every single bottle that made its way to Washington DC!
Check out our interview with Sebastian below the fold.
What’s open in your kitchen right now?
I just finished my last bottle of Catherine Marshall’s Shiraz Mourvedre 2005 — one of Nici (my wife) and my favorites. Elegance and restraint is rare in modern winemaking. I loved this wine because of these characters. Ripe and rich is easy to produce; it’s much harder to do the opposite.
How did you decide to pursue a career in wine?
Initially, I thought I would follow my passion for the ocean and become a Marine Biologist. Just after leaving school, I met Arthur Pillman a retired engineer who had a love for Burgundy and his little property Goedvertrouw Estate, just up the road from us. He allowed me to make my first wine with him — a small amount of Pinotage. From this experience, I was hooked.
How did you learn to make wine?
Practice, practice – and I am still learning (which sounds like a cliché). I just wish there was more than one harvest a year. I also spent my first few years after graduating changing some of our viticultural practices on the farm. My father and I came from different viewpoints. Here, I learned every character of every block on the farm. This has helped my winemaking hugely.
How do you spend your days off?
What does that mean? My own time for me and me alone! Surfing when I can! With some great local breaks just a few km away. These are rare. Otherwise Nici, Sophie, Leo and I try to go somewhere where we can switch off and enjoy each other’s company. Arniston, a small idyllic fishing village a few hours from us, is the best for this.
Who are your favorite winemakers in history?
I don’t have any favorite winemakers. I just have favorite wines.
What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
No one in particular in South Africa. I just love the way we are finding our roots again. There are winemakers who are proud of the wines that we produce here in SA.
What mailing lists, if any, do you purchase from?
What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
The best – a Sauternes from the late 1940’s don’t remember the producer and I also had a Moulin Touchais from the early 50’s at the same tasting. I fell in love with sweet wines then.
What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
The oldest is a 1973 Chat Mouton Rothschild — my year of conception. The most expensive is a 1999 Chateau D’ Yquem.
If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?
Vouvray Sec from Vincent Carême, Loire and the red Domaine Tempier 2008 , Bandol. I had a bottle the other day and could definitely drink it all the time.
What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
To find the balance between making wine and having to sell it. It is the most amazing job in the world. I cover all aspects, vineyards, winemaking, packaging and design, selling it and getting to travel all over the world to do so — and finally, I enjoy drinking my own wines. It is truly multidimensional!
What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own?
If I have to choose one — the Loire Valley. But I haven’t yet come across a wine region that isn’t fascinating in its own way. They are always a true reflection of the culture of an area! That is one of the great beauties of wine.
Is beer ever better than wine?
No, but it does quench ones thirst some times.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
That I wrapped hair on the beaches of Portugal for a living.
If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
Still wrapping hair on the beaches of Portugal!
How do you define success?
To make great wines that capture the essence of their place. I am very proud of our small piece of the earth and I think that I can do great things with the wines that I produce, to help build the positive image of South African wines.