Samantha O'Keefe and JD Pretorius make their CWG Auction debut
Words: Samarie Smith WSETDip
Wine has the profound quality of painting a picture of a place and of the person who had the foresight of producing something delicious from it for all to enjoy.
Each member invited to join the Cape Winemakers Guild has their own story, and every wine they make builds on this ever-expanding quality unique to wine. It therefore gives us great pleasure to introduce two members who joined the Guild in 2018 but who, partly due to the unprecedented times in 2020, could only submit their first wine on Auction this year. Both chose white wine from different regions as their debut, which will have many bidding hearts set on purchasing.
Here comes the Sun 2020
Samantha O'Keefe's perseverance to build a home and fulfil her dream in South Africa gave Greyton its official wine ward status in the Cape South Coast wine region.
Setting the bar for quality grapes grown here and delivering on the promise from a cellar that was hardly four years old, one cannot begin to imagine what she had to endure after losing her house, cellar, and vineyard in a devastating fire in 2020.
Having pioneered Greyton as a place of remarkable wines, with Lismore Estate being the marvel poised in the centre of her accomplishment, the whole wine world mourned her loss. Samantha lost her entire 2019 vintage and still needs to deal with feeling displaced. Yet, she remained committed to being a mother and a winemaker, keeping her chin up through what she knew would be one of the most challenging times ahead. It still is, but despite the agony, she soldiered forth. Recognizing her tenacious spirit, both the Guild and the South African wine industry lent their support to see this phoenix rise from the ashes. And she did.
A trajectory of decades' wine success was rewarded by her peers selecting Samantha to become a member of the Guild. It included her ingenuity to plant vineyards where no one else had dared to establish vines before.
In addition, her commitment to making wines that clearly expressed this terroir and her conviction to make the best version possible at Lismore, was quickly recognized on the world stage as the wines defined their sense of place. Lismore Syrah, being awarded one of the top 50 wines of the year in 2015, and the estate Reserve receiving a top 10 position from Robert Parker, added feathers to her cap. Praises kept coming as international wine critics such as Neal Martin and Jancis Robinson also commended her for consistent quality.
"Being nominated to the Cape Winemakers Guild was the greatest honour of my professional life. I consider myself a very proud voice for South African wine. Despite coming from California, I am one of the loudest cheerleaders for the South African wine industry. I love travelling around the world telling the story of South Africa, the progress that we've made and how diverse our terroir is."
Samantha's authenticity and talent have earned her great respect in the South African wine industry, her wines reflect who she is and where she wants to go and using fruit from Elgin and Walker Bay to create her Auction debut shows just that.
"My wine on Auction, Here Comes the Sun, is a direct result not so much of the tragedy of the fire, but the generosity of the South African wine industry. The Chenin Blanc component in the wine is thrilling because it shares a distinctive expression of cool climate Chenin you don't often see in South Africa. However, it is the minerality, the elegance and the salinity that made me think it will be a special Guild wine as it is something Guild buyers don't often get to taste."
Known for her elegant and sophisticated expressions of Viognier, it was non-negotiable to include its essence in the blend. It allowed her to step forward with something unique to her style while also indicating a new chapter in her winemaking career.
"I managed to get beautiful Elgin Viognier grown on rose quartz soils in Elgin. It allowed me to create a more lifted, aromatic, and voluptuous blend, showcasing what Elgin can give. There is such a spine of crystalline acidity running through the wine. I regret not being able to present the wine in person and tell this story as it is not that consistent with my normal style, but I am so proud of it."
With only 44 cases on Auction this year, Samantha's expressive and impressive rendition of Chenin and Viognier invites the rays of light back in and will, without a doubt, have buyers on the edge of their seats to be a part of this.
The White Lady Auction Chardonnay 2019
Good things come in threes, they say. Awarded the Diners Club Young Winemakers of the Year in 2014, JD Pretorius's career rocketed at Steenberg. And just after being appointed at Warwick, he became a member of the Guild. JD has been a member since 2018 but starting at a new cellar and being derailed by Covid the following year, he is finally making his debut at the 2021 CWG Auction with the White Lady Auction Chardonnay.
"In retrospect, this has put me in the ideal cycle to submit a 2019 white wine that is in a perfect stage as far as its development and integration goes. So, by default, it worked out."
JD's long-term plan will include a Cabernet Franc. Still, Chardonnay forms an integral part of Warwick’s identity, and he is confident that his Stellenbosch Chardonnay holds its ground among the cool-climate examples in the auction line-up.
"One can make incredible white wines from Stellenbosch, and this wine proves that Chardonnay can operate in red wine territory. Furthermore, Chardonnay has the gravitas to perform exceptionally well across various regions, and Stellenbosch gives you this rich palate of stone fruit and baked apple. I never want to stop making white wines but would love to alternate between red and white and experiment in the cellar."
While the estate's standard White Lady Chardonnay hails from three different vineyards, known as a fuller style, the Auction wine focusses on a combination of smaller and older vineyards picked earlier.
Made with very little interference, the Auction Chardonnay received no added sulphur, and it is also vegan friendly.
"Therefore, there is still a solid link to the White Lady so that people who are used to buying it can understand where the Guild wine is coming from, leaner and more precise."
JD's passion for white winemaking is palpable, albeit he loves the physicality of making red wine. But it was his active involvement, producing consistent quality in all spheres from Cap Classique to big reds, and using every opportunity to obtain more knowledge, that earned him his position on the Guild. Growing up in the city of roses rather than red wine, Bloemfontein eventually led him to winemaking.
"My parents were big wine lovers. Since school, my dad has been friends with Beyers Truter, so the first bottle of wine I sneaked from my dad's cellar without him finding out was a Kanonkop Paul Sauer! Wine, cooking, and travelling was a part of growing up and having an affinity with science led to studying winemaking in the Cape.
He discovered the enormity of wine at Graham Beck and whilst working in America. And when the opportunity came to join Steenberg, he was on a plane back home.
"There has always been continuity, and I learned a great deal from John Loubser, who is also a member of the Guild. Whenever there was an opportunity to taste with the Guild or help pour, John took me along. I was in awe of the exposure they got to wines from the world.
"We don't do battonage - it is another oxidative process adding fatness and richness to the wine. We just roll the barrels every Monday after payday so that the guys can remember," JD shares with refreshing candour, "and then roll them back in the afternoon.
Given the mandate of planting 400 hectares in the next 20 years, currently sitting as 40 hectares, JD is in for the long haul at this Stellenbosch estate.
"We haven't even scratched the surface yet. But that is winemaking for you. The job is never done!"