Greg Landman meets the country’s top winemakers. For our April edition, he chatted to Johan Malan of Simonsig
Johan, Francois and Pieter are the three sons of legendary winemaker Frans Malan, all born and raised on the family farm where they used to work during school holidays. Johan says, “I can remember drinking ice-cold grape must from the fermentation tanks and how delicious it was. We grew up with great wine.”
After graduating from Stellenbosch, he joined his father in 1981 and has been there since. He travels extensively, often to France and the Champagne area, keeping abreast of the latest techniques, although he is firmly rooted in traditional methods. He and his wife Diane live with their three youngsters at Simonsig. He loves sea fishing and they have travelled for 22 years to the Skeleton Coast to do just that. “My feet must be wet,” he says disarmingly.
An avenue of old trees leads you up to the tasting centre and the restaurant at this venerable Stellenbosch estate, where the Malan family has lived for more than ten generations. It’s drenched in character but as up to date as tomorrow.
Cellarmaster Johan Malan has brought in 31 vintages, following in his late father Frans’s footsteps. The first Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) in South Africa, Kaapse Vonkel, was made by Frans in 1971. Johan’s son, Michael, continues the family tradition, becoming the third generation to graduate from Stellenbosch with winemaking degrees.
Johan’s affinity with the land that has nurtured him is apparent when he says, “Creating wine is a collaboration between the winemaker and Mother Nature. But she always has the upper hand – you have to adjust to the curveballs that come your way.” He works closely with his viticulturist brother, Francois, and their winemakers, Debbie Thompson and Hannes Meyer.