Leon Coetzee at the Fledge & Co Wines Calitzdorp Speaks to us…
This talented young winemaker has a modest mien that is most attractive in one who obviously knows exactly what he is doing. He and his partner, Margaux Nel, the winemaker at her family’s business Boplaas, are crafting their own wines under the Fledge label. The approach might be quirky but the wines are very much in earnest, and they are making people sit up and take notice. Still at the “boutique” stage, watch for these to go from strength to strength as they start flexing their fledgling muscles.
Where and when were you born?
I was born in Elliot in the north Eastern Cape in 1983.
Large family? How many siblings? Any in the wine / brandy business?
Small family and I’ve only a sister – my dad’s a teacher and we farmed sheep and cattle until 2000, prior to moving to Riebeek West.
Did your family always have wine on the table?
My dad was born in Koringberg and he’d always get a little KWV quota from his family in the Boland, so there was always wine at the Sunday lunch table.
What is your wife’s name? Where did you meet? What does she do?
Well, my partner, is Margaux and I met her at a braai while we were students at Stellenbosch University. She’s the winemaker at her family concern, Boplaas, where I help her with vintage and where all our wines are crafted at the moment. Currently she’s half way through completing her MBA.
Kids? Where do you live?
Nope – we rent a cottage on a neighbour’s farm in Calitzdorp. I spend most of the year in Calitzdorp, but as often as possible I’m in the Swartland and Boland looking at the vineyards and trying to smous some wine.
Do you cook or does your wife, or both? What kind of cooking?
I do the cooking and it’s a combination of rustic farm style favourites as well as a little Cape Malay, but it depends on what fresh ingredients we can get, the weather and what wine we’ll be having. My wine-making mentor, Oom Nico, always told me “think of the food you’re going to have with the wine & then make the wine.”
What are your hobbies? Where do you holiday?
I do a little mountain biking, reading, enjoy movies & music, my master’s thesis (still need to finish it), but it’s mostly the encompassing hobby of wine that takes up my time. We haven’t had a proper holiday in 10 or so years.
What attracted you to make wine/ brandy?
The fact that you can attempt to capture all that nature gave, all the efforts of everyone involved and that moment in time, bottle it and decades later you can open a bottle and enjoy it – it’s quite special. Also with wine you can go on a journey without leaving the comfort of your kitchen table, as the wine brings its story, the history of the place and people involved in making it and its location right into your glass.
Do you think it is an art or a science?
Wine’s one of those quasi things – at its base it’s all hard science, without the correct ph, acid, tannins and all the rest in the grape it’s fruitless to attempt to craft something special or good; while at the same time, pretty special places, people and vines make for great wine (if the winemaker doesn’t mess it up!). It’s a combination of both – if you’ve got an eye for the aesthetic, a passion and an incredibly realistic, common sense and understanding of the science – you’re quite set. You’ve also got to be a bit of a hygienist as well.
Who were the influences on your brandy/wine-making?
It’s an ongoing process of influencers, the world of wine is just incredibly dynamic and all the time new things prickle my interest or we taste new wines from different regions. One of my first real influencers was Oom Nico Vermuelen, with whom I did my first vintage in 2007, he was just incredibly humble, all about the vines and someone who really likes wine.
Where did you study?
I studied B.Comm management accounting at Stellenbosch and am still attempting to complete my M.Comm (agricultural economics). I’m just a true blue, cellar rat.
What was your first job?
I’ve never really had a job, per se, but I did work once in a hardware store when I was at school.
And the next and so on?
I was also a part of Boer & Brit Wines – which was a fun experience and an incredible learning curve. For the past while, since 2012, I’ve joined Margaux and helped with vintage at Boplaas, while crafting our own Fledge & Co. Wines in 2007 with the first releases in 2012 of a total of 360 bottles.
Where do you think wine making is going in SA?
One must always be positive – so I’d say an improvement of wine making across the board. We hopefully can plant new, more suited varietals to each region, resulting in better wines & farmers will remain on the land cultivating great grapes for better and better wines. There are a few co-ops who are doing really exceptional things, as well as folks in previously “unknown” regions – I think this will continue with folks pushing boundaries. But hopefully, all South Africans will re-discover wine & enjoy what we craft.
How much attention do you personally pay to the vineyards?
For our project, we are incredibly fortunate to work with great growers and good vineyards, so this helps an immeasurable amount. I attempt to get around to all the vines once every two months & always at the most critical times – a round trip to visit our vines amounts to about 2200km or so.
Do you think it is essential to spend some time overseas? Where?
I’ve been super fortunate to visit Chile, Argentina & France, and it was eye opening to say the least on both occasions. Travel brings an expansion of horizons, so it can only be a good thing. Wine’s made all over the world and each place has its own uniqueness so anywhere is good, but France is France.
What is your wine philosophy?
To attempt to craft an honest decent drop from interesting vines – that’s what we strive for. We’ve got a lot of little mantras, but a few that have remained true all the time is “preconception hinders the enjoyment of discovery!” And Sir Ernest Shackleton’s family motto “fortitudine vincimus” or “by endurance we conquer”. Wine is agriculture all, and agriculture is a humbler.
What would you like to do that you haven’t done? In wine? In your life?
Go free-diving with sharks, stand at the foothills of everest and set foot on antarctica. In wine – there’s way too many things yet to do.
How are we going to attract more people to make wine part of their daily life in SA?
Break down the pretence about wine – by always encouraging people to taste new wines, discover new things and being positive about all wines – after all it’s just really special fermented grape juice. If we as an industry don’t try to make wine a part of the south african table and culture, we’re lost. For me it’s all about responsible consumption and #drinkbetterwine – hopefully some of it is our own.
Words: Greg Landman