Guy Webber made his first wine when he was 15. He did so with Catawba grapes growing from his parents’ stoep in Bloemfontein and later expanded his winemaking experiments to orange juice and rose petals. Nowadays he keeps his alchemical experimenting to Stellenzicht, where he’s been winemaker for almost 20 years. He believes that “So much of life is reflected in wine. It really is the distillation of life and people – that’s what makes wine so special. People may get older, their hair may change colour, and they might not be able to run as fast as they used to, but they are still the same people just with extra stories to tell, extra subtlety and complexity. And it’s the same with wine.” Towards the end of last year, Stellenzicht released their Speciality Range, which contains two blends and two single vineyard wines. We chatted to Guy about the range, why he’s decided to remove the winemaker’s preference when it comes to the blends, and what the 2017 vintage has in store for us.
HM: What, to you, differentiates Stellenzicht as a wine estate? What makes it special?
There isn’t one single thing which makes it special – it’s a host of things all blended together. Like a good wine blend, it’s not simply about the components on their own, it’s about how they interact with each other to make up the blend. It’s about diverse altitudes, complicated soils, varying slopes and aspects, proximity to the coast and, lest one forgets, the people.
HM: What do you think are some of the emerging trends in the South African wine industry and are you at Stellenzicht following these trends and how?
The wine industry has always been about trends, fashions and cycles – it is no different at the moment. The important thing is to be willing and able to listen to the consumers without being dictated to by them. Stellenzicht produces what it does because of the factors mentioned above – only a few of those can be changed at will. However, a big “thing” at the moment is to have wines with “stories” – we embarked on a plan a few years ago whereby a few single vineyards were registered and wines produced specifically due to their stories and uniqueness – these wines were recently launched under the Specialities labels
HM: In this new Specialty Range, you’ve removed the winemaker’s preference when it comes to creating the blends – can you explain the thought process behind this?
If one gave the same components to ten different people and tasked them with coming up with the best wine, the end result would probably be around ten different wines, each with their own twists on what their creators perceive to be “better”. The same would happen with those components in different vintages with the blenders constantly trying to maintain a style.
With these new wines, two of them are single vineyard wines where the possibilities for blending are limited while the other two are “fixed” blends which do not change from vintage to vintage. In this way, we believe that the wines portray the characteristics of the place and vintage rather than the art of blending.
HM: What has 2017 been like so far for Stellenzicht and what can we expect from this year’s harvest?
We are very happy with the vintage so far. Against all odds, it has proven to be the second largest vintage in the past twenty years with the quality looking surprisingly good. A number of young vineyards are coming into production at the moment and these seem quite exciting for the future, while a few of the old stalwarts have managed, yet again, to give us consistency. I am not one to easily make predictions on vintages, suffice to say that I believe that it will go down as one of the above-average vintages.