One is almost tempted to say, “What’s a nice Afrikaans girl like you doing here?” when meeting talented winemaker Alicia Rechner of Backsberg winery in Paarl. This is the home of the Back family, whose Lithuanian Jewish roots run deep in South African soil.
Owner Michael Back’s grandfather, a refugee, bought the farm at the turn of the last century, and Michael and his son Simon take care of business on a daily basis. Alicia is not only a formidable maker of a wide range of 29 Backsberg wines, including a delicious MCC, but the estate’s excellent brandies, as well as a kosher range of wines, all of which involves skills and techniques beyond what is normally required on a wine farm.
The kosher wines are strictly controlled by the Cape Town Beth Din, which ensures that the wines meet their rigid criteria, the end process of which involves flash-pasteurising. Surprisingly, this barely affects the taste of the wine, a feather in Alicia’s cap. The kosher winemaking process requires an intimate knowledge of what is required – once the grapes have been picked and the juice is released, only an observant Jewish supervisor may handle the product and the necessary winemaking equipment.
Alicia says, “We don’t handle the grapes at all after the skin is broken, all I do is tell them what to do – we work as a team.” The fact that the range includes a popular kosher MCC, as well as a Jewish sacramental wine called Kiddush, leaves one gobsmacked indeed.
Mother of two boys Enzo (15) and Levi (13), wife of metal-shaping artist Simon, who she met in Australia, and winemaker and distiller extraordinaire, Alicia is kept busy. “I fall down exhausted on my bed every night
with a glass of wine and a book as soon as I can.”
Her routine leaves me exhausted just listening to it. With an easy-going smile and a down-to-earth approach, she obviously knows what makes her happy – and fulfilled. The family live on the Backsberg estate, and holiday when they can in Arniston and Hermanus. A Stellenbosch University graduate, she spent time in Australia (Simon, see?) and Germany. “This was a good way to learn at double speed and have two vintages in one year.”
When asked if she thinks it’s essential to travel overseas she quickly replies, “Yes, on a tropical island if you can.” Wishful thinking at this stage of her life. Tasting her wine, you can tell her favourite grape is merlot. She says, “It’s like a child that requires little attention and blossoms independently. Merlot is naturally meant to make wine.” A match made in heaven.
Delicious dessert-style wine made from gewürztraminer and roussanne, fortified with the cellar’s ten-year-old brandy. Full of almond flavour, with a citrus tang. Perfect ice cold with chicken liver pâté or blue cheese. R125
Sparkling Brut MCC 2017
Crisp, clean and fresh from chardonnay with a smidgeon of pinot – the barely pink blush adds to charm. Cries out for strawberries or smoked salmon. R160
Elegant yet easy to knock back, with plenty of plummy notes and smooth tannins. Great with roast pork or chicken. R95