Keeping It Simple

Darran Stone, winemaker at Mont Rochelle, on how he got into wine, his favourite varietal and this year’s harvest.

Can you remember when you first became interested in winemaking?
Very clearly. I was 16 and reading through a University of Adelaide prospectus. I read it from cover-to-cover and the only degree that sounded interesting was Oenology. That’s when my interest was first piqued. Then about three years later, on the banks of the Rhine River, I drank my first glass of wine—a German Riesling—and was hooked.
 
Where do you hail from? 
I grew up in Kwazulu-Natal in the Midlands town of Ixopo. My family are dairy farmers and my older brother always planned on returning to the family farm—so I decided to branch out into a new industry. I studied at Stellenbosch University specializing in Oenology and Chemistry. When my studies ended I approached Chris Joubert (then of Overgaauw, now of Lourensford) about a mentorship. I can honestly say most of my wine knowledge and passion stems from my time spent with Chris.

Do you have a winemaking philosophy?
My wine philosophy is mostly to ‘keep it simple’. I try my best to make sure I am merely the conduit through which the vineyard is able to express itself in the wine. 
 
How did this year’s harvest go?
Very well. I was slightly worried about the effects of the heat wave we had in January, but the vineyards handled it well and the quality of the fruit is fantastic. I am particularly excited about the Chardonnay and Shiraz.
 
What’s your favourite varietal to make?
Cabernet Sauvignon. I love the challenge of getting the fruit right in the vineyard and the intricacies of tannin extraction and oak balance. 
  
What’s the best part of a typical day for you?
The best part of my day is that it’s never typical. The variety of working in the vineyards, cellar and in marketing means I never really know what to expect from day to day. 

What’s the best way to enjoy a glass of wine you have made?
With your feet up and a good book in hand.
 
What do you do for fun?
My favourite pastime is relaxing with friends. I find good conversation and laughter is the best way for me to unwind. I am also an avid reader, so my Kindle gets a fair share of airtime.

When did Mont Rochelle start up? 
The farm has been in agricultural production since 1715.  The first grapevines were planted in 1994 and the fruit packing shed was converted into a cellar. Because it’s 150 years old, and the cellar building is a National Heritage site, so no alterations could be done to the structure. This is why our tanks lie horizontally. 

Mont Rochelle is now wholly black-owned?
Yes. Miko Rwayitare purchased Mont Rochelle in 2001, making it the first wholly black-owned wine estate in South Africa. Our MIKO flagship range is named after him.

What does the future hold for Mont Rochelle?
We’re going to be adding a few new and unique wines to our portfolio over the next few years, which is quite exciting. We’re also focusing more on the local market, with greater distribution and ease-of-access to the wine-drinking public. We’re attending the Gugulethu Wine Festival as well as the Soweto Wine Festival this year, both of which are looking like great markets for us.

Darran lives on Mont Rochelle’s farm in Franschhoek with his wife, Megan and their daughter, Hayley. They were married in 2008 and Hayley was born in December last year. Darran spent a harvest in 2010 in Napa Valley, California, where he worked at the boutique cellar Dancing Hares under Andy Erickson—one of Napa Valley’s top winemakers.