Words by Greg Landman
Charming, attractive, focused and much younger than most legends I know, Rianie is more than worthy of the title.
After 10 years as the winemaker at famous Morgenhof, she took over at Haskell Vineyards and Dombeya Wines in the dual role of General Manager and winemaker in 2004.
In 2007 the Haskell Pillars Syrah won three trophies at the Tri Nation Challenge against Australia and New Zealand. The trophies were Best Shiraz, Best Red Wine and Best Wine in Show – the first time since the inception of this prestigious competition that a South African wine had won these significant accolades. Since then, she has taken the company from strength to strength and it looks like there is no stopping her.
Rianie was the first female member in many a year to be invited to join the prestigious Cape Winemakers Guild and is still only one of two in that exclusive club of the country’s finest winemakers.
She is married to fellow winemaker, Louis Strydom, and says that there is no friction in their house over their competing roles – “I just make better wine than he does.” A sense of humour will get you far.
She answered some slightly off-beat questions so we could see what makes her tick.
Can you describe the best glass of wine you’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking?
There are many great wines that I have had the opportunity to drink thus far, but the one that I still remember the most is my first glass of French wine. We had our farewell party in our final year at varsity and ended up at the late Professor van Wyk’s house. He brought out a magnum of Ch. Batailley 1976 from Pauillac. It might not be the best from Pauillac and I subsequently have had the privilege to taste the neighbouring chateau, but at that stage of my life it took the taste and experience of wine to a whole new level and I knew I would forever be in love with this industry.
And the worst?
It was the worst and also most embarrassing. I cannot recall the wine’s name, but it was at a festival on Paarl Mountain. I tasted the wine and all sorts of bad flavours popped up, and I know I got rid of the wine very fast. Lots of people joined our group as the day went along. At one stage the man across me poured the wine that I just thought was absolutely bad to drink, and I tried to convince him not to drink this wine as it tasted awful. It turned out that he was the winemaker and I sat with a red face.
Is there something that makes South African wines special? Can you describe it?
Yes. You taste the sun and the beauty of life in the bottle. Drinking SA wine you have to drink in context of the beauty of our country. You don’t taste the wine, but the environment you are enjoying a glass of wine in, for example, the bushveld, sunset evenings on the West Coast, on top of a mountain, etc. That is what our wines taste like.
What do you find attracts you to people – as friends?
Their positive attitude to life, their love for their families and their love of the outdoors.
What do you like most about yourself?
My honesty and loyalty.
My fitness level (Haha!)
Which living person do you admire most?
Both my parents.
What would you like to come back as?
Probably a man.
When in your life have you been happiest – until now?
My time at varsity was great.
What can you just not do without in your life?
My cup of coffee in the morning.
When do you think is right to tell a teensie weenie lie?
When you poured the last glass from that very expensive and special bottle of wine, and there was actually still enough to share.
When have you been most bored?
Any flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg
High heels or flats?
How can you ask me this? Do Blundstones come in high heels?
(Note: Blundstones are a famous workman’s boot.)
As the wine writer for Country Life magazine for the last 15 years, Greg has met and interviewed more than 150 of the country’s top wine makers. His articles offer unique insights into where to eat, what to drink, and where to go all over the Western Cape. With his dining companion Beryl Ormsby Browne, he has also reviewed more than 60 country restaurants for the magazine and has been a reviewer for the prestigious Eat Out Guide for 12 years. His passion for everything the winelands has to offer has led him into the world of wine tours. To find out more, visit his website Magic Grape Tours.