Greg Landman meets the country’s top winemakers and samples their wines. Meet brandy maker Ferdi Smit.
Ferdi was born in 1964 in Bredasdorp, but grew up in Swellendam as a typical farming community youngster. He was fascinated by the making of witblits and it seemed only natural for him to go into winemaking. He studied in Worcester and managed the wine depot of Barrydale Cellar in Buffeljagsrivier. In 1991 he was appointed assistant winemaker there under winemaker Bob de Villiers. He pays tribute to the amazing techniques of Stoffel Ellis and Peter Swanepoel who showed him the importance of good quality Rabat wines in brandy making. Ferdi and his wife Lorraine live with their three daughters on a 12-hectare smallholding in Buffeljagsrivier, Klein Plasie, where Ferdi farms cattle and sheep.
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It might be stating the obvious, but one cannot make great brandy from inferior wine, so before you start you need to be a great winemaker. Ferdi is the production manager at Barrydale Cellars in the Little Karoo, the home of some of the finest SA brandies that consistently win silver and gold medals at international competitions, including the Best Brandy in the World from the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) in London.
Ferdi is strangely modest about his achievements and pays tribute to his team, and to Buks Venter, instrumental in helping him with the original blending. The method of pot stilling brandy is the same as is used in Cognac, France, but we may not call ours Cognac because of various trade agreements. And do we want to anyway? Not at all.
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“In both cases, the brandy is distilled twice,” says Ferdi. “The term comes from the Dutch name for the product, brandewijn, burnt wine. The original fruit flavours come through in the best brandies, as well as the characteristics imparted by the wood in which the brandy is matured. Over the years a certain portion of the brandy is lost through evaporation as the wood ‘breathes’. This is known as the angels’ share, and it contributes significantly to the price of the best brandies.” Ferdi’s on good terms with those angels – he has to be, making the fabulous brandies he does.
Ferdi’s Top Picks
Joseph Barry Cape Potstill Brandy
Banana, dried peach, pear and vanilla on the nose, delicious, rich, smooth and elegant in the mouth. Distilled traditionally in Woudberg pot stills from St Emilion and Colombar varietals. R290 at the cellar. Named for the Overberg entrepreneur after whom Barrydale is named.
Barry & Nephews Muscat Potstill Brandy
100% Hanepoot results in fabulous Muscat aromas of dried apricots and orange blossoms on the nose, and a lingering sweet aftertaste with nuances of honeysuckle. R290.
Joseph Barry 10 year old
Ripe fruit aromas on the nose, very pungent, with superb deep mouthfeel, full and ripe, hints of vanilla, a magnificent example. Winner of the Best Brandy in the World 2009 IWSC London. R410 at the cellar.
Words Greg Landman