Chris: I used to make nasty beer out of pineapple skins under my bed when I was a kid. Eventually I grew up and somehow ended up studying winemaking at Stellenbosch where I met my lovely wife Suzaan. She was then, and still is out of my league. Together we spent some golden years traveling overseas, working vintages in many-a-faraway place, tasting many wines. In 2010 we started Alheit Vineyards in a rented cellar on a friend’s farm near Hermanus. Other than wine I like soppy music, sunsets and kittens. Also rugby.
Suzaan: I did not make horrible pineapple wine. I was planning to become a Marine Biologist, until I found out the course wasn’t offered at Stellenbosch (some things are just more important that dolphins). I had no idea what to study until my brother’s roommate casually mentioned that he would have done winemaking if he could choose over. He misinformed me that winemaking paid extremely well. I saw dollar signs and went for winemaking. I loved my first assistant job at Lynx Wines in Franschhoek, but after two years I had such a yearning for Europe that we resigned our jobs and packed our things.
Tasting our way through the Old World gave me massive perspective. I had to reset my whole wine philosophy.
I had to start from scratch. It was very exciting and humbling. We have learned that a special vineyard really does make a special wine, so ‘don’t touch it too much’!
And so it is, Chris stalking me back in our student days has turned into a very blessed business and a wonderful family with two great kids!
The wine industry is so often overly romanticised, but it has to be said that being young and in love and traveling the world together is definitely not overrated. The years we spent following the harvests North and South were golden. Not always easy, but always amazing. If we could advise anything to a young post-grad wine person, it would be to travel and then travel more. Work everywhere you can.
We met loads of new people, experienced local food and culture, and saw beautiful places. We learned a lot about how people approach wine in different wine cultures. By the time the dust settled we’d worked in California’s Napa Valley, Western Australia, St. Emilion in France, Clare Valley in South Australia, and Germany’s Mosel River. We also had a chance to do some touring and tasting in between harvests, spending significant time in New Zealand, Languedoc, Roussillon, Provence, the Northern and Southern Rhone, and the Cyclades (Greece).
These early adventures filled us with a tremendous respect and admiration for the great wines of Europe. For sure, some of the New World is interesting, but we think that Europe is the heartland of truly fine wine.
The lessons that we learnt there really got us thinking: what do we do here in the Cape? What do we already have that is real and beautiful?
How can we make wines that are authentic? These are important questions. Traveling definitely gave us some valuable perspective and cemented a real sense of excitement for what the Cape can achieve if we play to our strengths.
At the end of 2010 we started Alheit Vineyards. Our goal is to show that the Cape’s vinous heritage is worth celebrating and protecting, that old vineyards and “ordinary grapes” are in fact wonderful, and that we are only now scratching the surface of what is possible in the Cape.
We are based on Hemelrand, a beautiful mountain farm situated high on the Hemel & Aarde Ridge in Walker Bay. This rugged piece of fynbos covered land belongs to Hans and Mary Anne Evenhuis. They gave us an amazing opportunity, and so here we are. Hemelrand is planted to an olive grove, lavender fields and a very exciting vineyard.