Making Wine, Not War

By Kim Maxwell

It takes hard work, commitment and love to manage a wine business and a marriage. GARY AND KATHY JORDAN have succeeded at both, making wine from their Stellenbosch farm, JORDAN, since 1993. The pair met while Gary was studying, and their joint harvests date back to 1989. Three ranges, 18 labels and 105ha later, Gary and Kathy have won over competition judges and consumers alike. Responding to a dare, this inventive couple attracted loads of online interest with a YouTube harvest 2013 spoof. Gary is seen grooving in a tuxedo, and Kathy doing fermentation moves as children’s character Barney. (See Jordan’s Harlem Shake, harvest style, at www.goodtaste/video-lounge.) 

For more serious moments, this dynamic duo keeps emotions in check by splitting the roles: Gary works vineyards, while Kathy oversees cellar action. They also oversee wine markets separately. They both aspire to make Burgundian-style whites and reds emulating Bordeaux, but Kathy’s pet hate is clumsy, overpowering wines, while Gary has a fondness for Crozes-Hermitage Syrah. “We disagree more during vintage, when tempers get frayed, but generally I’ve learnt to choose my battles,” explains Kathy. And while some couples won’t sleep without settling an argument, the Jordans never sign off on a wine blend without being in complete agreement.

 Gary and Kathy Jordan, Jordan Wine Estate (Top) and Nadia & Gordon, Newton Johnson Vineyards (bottom)

Gary and Kathy Jordan, Jordan Wine Estate (Top) and Nadia & Gordon, Newton Johnson Vineyards (bottom)

At NEWTON JOHNSON in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, GORDON AND NADIA NEWTON JOHNSON share winemaking and parenting responsibilities. “We both want the same thing; it’s just a matter of how we get there,” says Gordon. “Our roles are very blurred. And parenting two kids below the age of three makes it more complex.” With 30 harvests between them, Nadia deals with winemaking admin to allow Gordon more vineyard time. But wine strategies are developed together. “Sometimes it’s her ideas, other times mine,” says Gordon. “We have a great professional relationship and our biggest asset is having the same palate for tasting the wines.” 

This couple loves Burgundian reds, so unsurprisingly their proudest achievement is four consecutive Platter five stars for the Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Pinot Noir. Nadia’s approach is methodical, applying a good understanding of the chemical processes, while Gordon describes himself as “a bit of a space cadet” who tends to get overly philosophical. The Stellenbosch University graduates met through friends when Nadia was working a harvest at a neighbouring property in 2004. Two years later she was hired fulltime. 

Some winemaking couples work best in separate cellars.CORLEA FOURIE makes wines at BOSMAN FAMILY WINES in Wellington, while husband BERTUS ‘MR COFFEE PINOTAGE’ FOURIE is a consulting winemaker for the successful Barista Pinotage range (he created the coffee Pinotage style at Diemersfontein in 2001). Bertus also makes Val du Charron’s Five Girlfriends export label. 

The pair met and fell in love during harvest 2003. “I was a Stellenbosch University student. My lecturer phoned Bertus at Diemersfontein, and told him he was going to send over the girl he would marry, to work the harvest. Bertus laughed at the idea,” recalls Corlea. “It was such a hard harvest, with coffee Pinotage pump-overs on many nights. But by the end of it we were engaged, and in December of that year we were married.” 

Bertus has a big personality; Corlea is a quieter soul. “In our respective wines, he takes risks and likes being bold and expressive,” explains Corlea. “I try to consider things and make sensible decisions. But if we want to drink something interesting we both love, it will always be Pinot.” For that reason the Fourie family is collaborating on their own Pinot Noir wine. A niche production of 900 bottles, the maiden 2012 vintage (out this September), will use Grabouw fruit. 

  Corlea of Bosman Family Vineyards & Bertus of Barista Coffee Pinotage (left) and Andrea & Chris, Mullineux Family Wines (right)

Corlea of Bosman Family Vineyards & Bertus of Barista Coffee Pinotage (left) and Andrea & Chris, Mullineux Family Wines (right)

At MULLINEUX FAMILY WINES in the Swartland, ANDREA MULLINEUX makes the wines and husband CHRIS nurtures the vines. Blending and picking decisions are made together. Andrea is a UC Davis graduate of California, while Chris studied winemaking at Stellenbosch. They met briefly in 2004 when Andrea worked an internship at Waterford, and things started to sizzle when they connected, by chance, in Champagne later that year. That they were both heading to the south of France for harvest jobs probably helped (they share a passion for wines from this area). Andrea returned to South Africa for harvest 2005, and the couple started their own label two years later. 

Mullineux’s reputation for outstanding Swartland wines has developed in a short time—the Syrah 2010 was Platter’s Red Wine of the Year 2013. But juggling a young family with a business isn’t trouble-free. “When we started Mullineux we separated our responsibilities, otherwise we would always be on top of each other,” explains Andrea. “As a rule, Chris is more no-nonsense, and I tend to overthink. So we balance each other out nicely. I have a keen sense for what is happening in each barrel or vat. Chris is a natural in the vineyard—he can spot a good one even when it’s dormant in mid-winter, with no leaves and lots of undergrowth.”

  Suzaan & Chris Alheit, Alheit Vineyards (left) and Nadia& David Sadie, David Wines (right)

Suzaan & Chris Alheit, Alheit Vineyards (left) and Nadia& David Sadie, David Wines (right)

Stellenbosch University was where DAVID AND NADIA SADIE met, but it was only during final-year exams things took a romantic twist. Nadia furthered her studies in soil science the following year, while David worked harvests overseas. Now, after four years of marriage, these wine-loving partners have produced their fourth vintage of DAVID WINES. A total production of only 4 000 bottles—10 tons—is made at the Lemburg cellar, where David is employed fulltime. Their two white and two red wines are made from Swartland vines spread over 13 different sites; Platter-five-star 2011 Aristargos White blend is the flagship. “We don’t add anything except sulphur, so our wines are naked and exposed. So blending from different vineyards is an important part of our strategy,” says David.

This niche project is managed outside of David and Nadia’s respective jobs. Nadia is a soil scientist for an environmental agricultural company, but assists David in the various vineyards when time allows. “I’m responsible for sourcing the grapes, major decisions in the cellar, when to bottle. Nadia handles the financials, and she’s better at tasting out small things in our wines that I sometimes overlook,” says David. Blending, packaging and tastings are a team effort. “I’m the dreamer, whereas Nadia is the realist,” adds David. “Somewhere in the middle lies the secret to our luck.” 

The Hemelrand farm in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is home, and the centre of ALHEIT VINEYARDSoperations, for SUZAAN AND CHRIS ALHEIT. Like the Sadies, this couple met during their Stellenbosch studies. Working extensively in South African and overseas regions afterwards, key moments include surviving an icy harvest in the Mosel, crashing their boss’s car, collapsing a steel tank, and exploding a press. A wedding, a baby, two dogs and two cats later, they’ve produced their third vintage of Chenin/Semillon blend Alheit Cartology, and a cultish following.

This is a labour of love and a round-the-clock business—in 2013 Alheit Vineyards pressed only 20 tons overall. “We make only white wine, with a focus on Chenin and Semillon sourced from Western Cape dry land vineyards,” says Chris. He favours “traditional Cape” varieties that express their origin. The Cartology 2012 release will also see the debut of Radio Lazarus 2012, an old single-vineyard Chenin. 

Chris generally focuses on vineyards and Suzaan handles the cellar, but the addition of a daughter has thrown some routines out. “Chris goes into seizures when he has to do admin,” says Suzaan. “He’s good with the big-picture things and directing the business, and he’s a major wine geek.” She moans about her husband being “obsessive and bossy” in the cellar, but the couple’s sense of humour and “virtually identical” approach to making wine sorts that out. Blending and packaging decisions are handled together. Over a glass of wine, of course.