The Louw-down on estate’s new EC-born winemaker

Nitida wine farm has a new winemaker.
Nitida wine farm has a new winemaker.
Etienne Louw
Etienne Louw

When Nitida's award-winning winemaker Danie Keulder announced to the wine estate's owner Bernhard Veller that he was leaving to pursue opportunities overseas, Veller was concerned that he was going to struggle to find a replacement winemaker who could fill Keulder's enormous viniculturist's shoes.

Keulder was not only named Diners Club Winemaker of the Year in 2019 for his 2017 Pinot Noir but has also produced three award-winning Nitida wines — the Golden Orb Sauvignon Blanc, the Tinkery (an experimental label) and the Grande Matriarch MCC — all of which have picked up gold medals and high praise from local and international judges and wine experts.

So Veller turned to the only winemaker he knew who would be up for the challenge, and that was Etienne Louw, who until recently has been making acclaimed wines for Altydgedacht, Groot Phesantekraal and Maastricht.

Q: Can you tell us where you are from and where you live now

A: I was born and bred in Port Elizabeth, but have lived in Aurora, Durbanville for the past 11 years.

Q: How did your interest in winemaking start?

A: Growing up I had no interest in going into agriculture. But my arrival in Stellenbosch changed all that. My interest in wine definitely started with consumption, not tasting and spitting! I joined the Wine Culture Society in Stellenbosch, which used to arrange visits to wineries and I became fascinated by the blend of art and science involved in the winemaking process.

Q: Has your chemical engineering degree helped at all with winemaking?

A: It is not so much the chemistry that has been of assistance, since winemaking is predominantly bio-chemistry, which is not covered in the Chemical Engineering curriculum. Engineering gives you a good understanding of processes — from inception to completion and all the little steps in-between. But it is surprising how one’s grasp of mathematics stand you in good stead in my line of work.

Q: Tell us about your winemaking career.

A: I was fortunate to be given a fair share of responsibility from very early on, and that helped me to get to know various aspects of the wine business from the get-go. I did my first harvest while I was still a final-year engineering student at Muratie. After graduating, I did two years of  “pyp-sleep” (an Afrikaans expression for dragging winery pipes) in Durbanville and California before returning to university in 2003 to study Viticulture and Oenology. In 2006, I stepped into the winemaker position at Altydgedacht.

I also did a harvest in New Zealand in 2009 and in 2015 started my own wine company The Vinoneers with my business partner. In 2017 I added Maastricht and Groot Phesantekraal to my winemaking responsibilities. But I am extremely excited to start a new chapter at Nitida — being an estate winemaker who wants to stay in Durbanville, the opportunity was such that I could not let it pass.

Q: What is your philosophy on winemaking?

A: In conversations with me, the listener will quickly realise that I am obsessed with music. One of the most memorable quotes I’ve heard was from a world-famous rock producer who said “ I love to make records that people love to hear.” I don’t believe winemaking should be a self-indulgent pursuit for the winemaker. I love to make wines that people love to drink, and it can be done without sacrificing the integrity of the wine. That is where the skill of the winemaker comes into play.

Q: What would you consider your greatest achievement to date as a winemaker?

A: I love a good underdog story. My favourite was being awarded the Grand Prix trophy at the 2015 Amorim Cap Classique challenge for a 2013 Blanc de Blanc MCC.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: I like the versatility of my job. Although a lot of people associate winemaking with primary production, the role of the winemaker in marketing and strategic planning is becoming more and more important in a crowded marketplace.

Q: What is your personal choice when it comes to having a glass of wine?

A: I love the “book-ends” of the wine world; a dry MCC on the one side, and a Noble Late Harvest on the other. I also savour a good glass of Riesling.

Q: What makes Nitida stand out?

A: Nitida’s track record speaks for itself. I am going to repeat that Nitida, as a destination, is built around the wine. A great deal of goodwill was built over the years with the customer base, so there is a strong loyalty towards the brand. I am also excited to revisit some cultivars and styles which I have had to bid farewell to in recent ventures.

Q: Is there something people might not know about you?

A: I love guitars. I have played in bands for most of my life since varsity days. I like listening to any music where the guitar features — from classical guitar to some really loud heavy metal. And I know it is not very rock & roll to admit — but I have a real soft spot for good old Eighties Pop! Besides finishing the harvest and doing some strategic planning during the lockdown, I have also been using the time to play a lot — and I mean a lot — of guitar, rehearsing some new tunes and getting the guitar chops back in shape! — DDC 

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