Charl was born in Mariental in Namibia in 1979. The family used to drink wine only on special occasions which led him to associate good wine with good times, not a bad way to start a lifelong acquaintance with one of the best things in life.
He was attracted to winemaking because of the lifestyle associated with it, and studied at Stellenbosch, graduating with an honours degree and later with an MBA. Charl first worked at Kaapzicht where Danie Steytler Senior was an enormous influence. He did five harvests overseas in Romania and Greece, “not-so-common countries” as he calls them.
After Kaapzicht he was at Clos Malverne, where his wife Suzanne, also a winemaker from Namibia, now does the winemaking. A romantic, he says, “We fell in love while on our way to Namibia one random Thursday evening.” The couple lives in Stellenbosch with their two daughters, Elizabeth and Hendrien, and they love going to Namibia as often as they can. In South Africa they like to holiday in Still Bay. With two youngsters, restaurants are not big on their agenda, instead they entertain at home, where Suzanne takes charge in the kitchen. “She’s a natural; I love to braai, that’s my thing,” says Charl. A typical family man, he enjoys “driving in my bakkie on gravel roads in the middle of nowhere with my wife and kids with me.” Oh, and he makes great wine.
Babylonstoren, on the Klapmuts Simondium Road near Paarl, has quickly established itself as a high-end destination for lovers of all that exemplifies country living at its very best. But there’s nothing precious about it, nothing that’s intimidating. While originally established in 1692, it’s as modern as tomorrow, the owners using great taste – and plenty of money – to make it really special. The words ‘casual elegance‘ spring to mind.
The vegetable gardens and orchards are magnificent, very much in the French manner, the fabulous new tasting room is a knockout, their famous restaurant Babel, and the Greenhouse where lighter fare is available, are always busy.
Then there are the wines, an expanding range of varietals and blends worth taking note of. Winemaker Charl Coetzee has been there for the last five years, developing the range right from the start. His wines have a restrained elegance very much in keeping with the Babylonstoren ethos, with plenty of fruit apparent on the nose and palate, and restrained use of wood where necessary.
Most of the grapes come from the farm itself, as does the fresh produce used in their kitchens. “I want to make wines that have a timeless quality and are true to their terroir, the earth they come from,” Charl sums up.
I associate good wines with occasions and therefore the best glass of wine was the wine we had the evening when I asked my wife to marry me and she said yes. I cannot remember specifically what wine it was but it was definitely a Pinotage.
And the worst?
We were in a restaurant once in a small town (I’m not going to mention any names). Just outside of this town a very reputable winemaker is making some of the best wines in South Africa. We visited him earlier and we know each other well. Anyway, during our dinner we ordered a bottle of one of his wines and it was unfortunately corked. We called on the local lady who was managing the restaurant and told her that the bottle was corked and that we would like to have another bottle. She refused! She just kept on saying that she also knows the winemaker well and that he does not make corked wines. We tried to phone him but could not get hold of him so we were stuck with the corked bottle! Of course we did not drink it, but we did toast it because it was actually such a funny situation.
What do you think makes South African wines special? Can you describe it?
I think everyone is loyal to their country and it is something that is in you, as mentioned before, it is in your blood. Therefore, whenever I drink a South African wine after I have drank any other wine from another country it is just a feeling of “I am home!”
What do you find attracts you to people—as friends?
I like positive people who do not take life too seriously, people with a good sense of humour and people who are true to themselves, who like me for who I am and not because I have some sort of social status or any other hidden agenda.
What do you like most about yourself?
I think I am someone who can communicate and relate to anyone at any level and therefore I get along with people most of the time. I like that about myself, I mean – it is better to get along with someone rather than to not get along!
I am an emotional person and although this can be a positive attribute most of the time, it can be detrimental, especially when it comes to my management style. I sometimes wish I could have been more rational especially when it comes to decision making.
When in your life have you been happiest—’till now?
Every time I spend quality time with my wife and kids I cannot be a happier man. They are my pride and joy. When I am with them, often driving on some gravel road somewhere in Namibia, this makes me even more happy.
What can you just not do without in your life?
Family and friends – and a place to light the fire…
When do you think it is right to tell a teensie weeny lie?
When you want to surprise someone in order to make them happy.
When have you been most bored?
When standing in any queue waiting for something.
Babylonstoren wines we love…
Light and crisp without losing any character. It’s also unwooded with plenty of tropical fruit flavours. Perfect for sundowners. Great with light, creamy pasta dishes.
Fifteen months on French oak supports the deep, dark, mysterious colour, the nose and superb mouthfeel of this very special wine. Gold Medal at the International Wine Challenge. Cool to 16⁰C, fabulous with fillet steak.
Words: Greg Landman