Bubbles Unplugged

Pieter Ferreira chats about his 25 years at Graham Beck    

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What should you have said to yourself 25 years ago, as you started out at Graham Beck? Any advice?
You’ve got to live your passion and dream. The vision and gut-feel of the late Graham Beck was awesome and straight to the point. From day one he wanted to produce a world-leading sparkling wine, uniquely South African. That was my vision too. He taught me many things, one of which was to forget sideshows and concentrate on what you can do best.

Tell us some of the highlights of the last 25 years?
I think one day I’d like to write a book about my time with the Beck family. Something like ‘Bubbles Unplugged’. There was the selection of Graham Beck Brut NV for the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela in 1994—and Barack and Michelle Obama used it in their private capacity before he went on to his Acceptance Speech on 4 November 2008 in Chicago. A big highlight was our turn-around of the Robertson region—making it an important area for Cap Classique. Years ago that was not the case—people said the area was too hot for Cap Classique. Today, other producers buy Robertson grapes for Cap Classique. There were also lots of achievements and awards—they keep us on the radar. But it’s important to stay humble: you are only as good as the next bottle you are going to produce.

And some of the challenges?
It was not easy to settle in Robertson—it is just a little bit too far from most places. I also recall producing our maiden vintage in 1991 under the stars. The cellar was still being built, but we did it. Another challenge is the ‘window period’ we have for harvesting our sparkling wine grapes. Sometimes it can be as short as 12 days, so being well organised is vital. Another challenge is consistency and continuity—an extremely important link to our customers. 

The next 25 years—what do you forecast for South African MCC on world markets?
MCC remains a vibrant category and is the only one that keeps growing at double digits. That means production doubles every five years. We could well see MCC at over 35 million bottles. South African MCC will still be the best alternative to champagne with the best value/quality price point ratio in the world. 

You almost became a dentist, any regrets?
Say aahh. No, never. Thanks and credit goes to one of my mentors, Jan Boland Coetzee. He told me I needed to smell the roses and really get my hands dirty.

Where did you, ahem, cut your teeth with making MCC?
Most people know my career as a bubbly maker started with the legend Achim von Arnim at Haute Cabriere in Franschhoek. He was the first specialist in MCC and I learnt a tremendous amount during my seven ‘mad’ years with him.

Tell us a funny story from one of those years.
He had a Deux Chevaux 2CV Citroën and when he bought it he was told the car had just three forward gears. So, to keep a long story short, one day after a festive tasting in town somewhere, the two of us drove back in the 2CV. When we took the turn from the main road I geared ‘down’ but I managed to find the fourth gear. Achim still recalls he has never gone around that corner so quickly.

Your nickname is Bubbles. How did this came about?
My dear friend Melvyn Minnaar gave me the nickname. Is it because I have bubbles in my blood, or because I have a bubbly personality? You decide.

You’re known to love surfing, do you still get in the waves and if so, where’s your favourite surf spot?
I grew up as a surfer boy in Durban. Today, surfing has taken a back seat due to other commitments. But I think one of my favourite spots is Bruce’s Beauties in Cape St Francis. I have been to the Vintners Surf Classic a few times and I remember speaking to Deon Bing at one of them. When I told him I was from Robertson he said the only way I could practice surfing from there was on the ‘heat waves’.

We’d love to hear your favourite bubbly quote…
I like the one from Sir Winston Churchill: “The perfect size for bubbly is a magnum, as long as your partner does not drink.”

Pieter lives with his family—his wife, Ann and their kids, William and Kate—in Franschhoek. Ann does PR for wineries. William is in marketing in Cape Town and Kate is in her second year of studies and is interested in photography and food styling.

Graham Beck—Champion Wines, Champion Horses
Champions of sustainable farming too, Graham Beck’s Robertson wine estate, Madeba (there’s one in Stellenbosch too) is located in the Succulent Karoo Biome in the Breede River Valley. The area is rich in plant and geological diversity, and bordering the estate is the 2148 hectare Graham Beck Private Nature Reserve, which extends to the eastern slopes of the Rooiberg. The Game Reserve wine range is homage to this protected veld, celebrating its indigenous animals and plants. One such is the highly endangered Riverine Rabbit, here at its most southerly point of discovery. (See Best Books on page 56.) Notably, for every hectare of land that produces wine or stud horses, four hectares are conserved.

Tel. 021-874-1258, Email. cellar@grahambeckwines.co.za, Tasting and sales. Mon-Fri 9-5, Sat & Sun 10-4.

The Winemaker’s Selection
Pieter’s top three bubblies from the Graham Beck range

Brut Blanc de Blancs
Rich, creamy aromas with hints of fresh lime fruit on the nose. An exciting fine mousse with an explosion of tangerines on the palate. Great brioche and yeast complexity broadens the palate, leading to a long elegant finish.

Brut Chardonnay Pinot Noir
Light yeasty aromas, limey fresh fruit on the nose, and rich creamy complexity on the palate. Fine mousse gives freshness and finesse. 

Brut Rosé
Noticeable ripe strawberries from the Pinot Noir, with a creamy complexity from the Chardonnay. An explosion of raspberry fruit together with fresh sherbet on the palate and a long, fine creamy mousse.