Greg Landman meets the country’s top winemakers. This month is the turn of Rianco van Rooyen.
About the winemaker
Rianco was born in Port Elizabeth in 1984 but went to school in Mooi River. The family has a dairy farm in Vryheid which, at first, led to his being enrolled for an agricultural degree.
Things changed when he discovered that the wine course his roommate was studying was a lot more fascinating. He went on to receive a degree in viticulture and oenology from Stellenbosch University in 2005.
Rianco’s first job was in Muratie’s tasting room and his first two harvests were at Boschendal under the watchful eye of JC Bekker in 2005 and 2006. In 2006 he did a harvest in Sonoma, California and in 2007 was appointed by Orange River Cellars at the Keimoes cellar. He was sent in 2008 to do a harvest in Bordeaux.
Rianco pays tribute to talented viticulturist Chris Kalp without whom his job would not be possible, and of winemaking he says, “Don’t try to make a wine that the grapes won’t allow you to.”
Rianco is an avid sportsman and loves cooking. He’s lucky enough to live on one of those idyllic islands in the Orange River but enjoys holidaying on the West Coast, especially Port Nolloth and Jacobsbaai.
When flying to Upington, the ancient Kalahari Desert terrain is like something you’d expect on the moon. It looks unforgiving and inhospitable, with interesting undulations as far as the eye can see. As you get closer, you see a vast green landscape, a Garden of Eden, startling in its beauty. This area stretches for more than 300km, fed by the mighty Orange River that rises in Lesotho and flows for 2 200km to the sea at Oranjemund. Without this river and an intricate irrigation system, there would be no agricultural development here and certainly no grapes.
Far from any Cape Dutch influence and with nary a gable in sight, Orange River Cellars has carved a massive wine niche for itself, releasing more than 20 million litres of wine every year, making them, by volume, one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. There are five huge cellars – Upington, Keimoes, Kakamas, Grootdrink and Groblershoop – each with its own winemaker and viticulturist. Every year the Spar Country Cellar Awards pits them against one another in a winemaking duel. Winner last year was Rianco van Rooyen, whose Keimoes Cellar was also chosen as the best, no mean feat in this field of talented, passionate winemakers. n
ORANGE RIVER CELLARS, UPINGTON, 054 337 8800
A Veritas Gold Medal winner, packed with tropical fruit flavours. Nice and dry with well-controlled acids, just the thing to knock back by the case this summer. Fabulous with grilled chicken and game fish, A bargain at R30.
Red Muscadel NV
Superbly raisiny with a great tang to cut the sweetness, it has been entered in the Six Nations Wine Challenge in Australia which is by invitation only. A high accolade indeed. Serve very cold with blue cheese and a nut or two. R47 at the cellar.
Chenin Blanc 2014
Just the ticket for those who find wooded Chenins not to their liking. Delightfully fresh and light, easy drinking without becoming insipid. Great with sushi and creamy pasta dishes. R30 at the cellar.