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Elegant but with backbone

Chandré Petersen, the newest addition to the award-winning South African winery Nederburg, says she is led by curiosity

Chandré Petersen Nederburg

Chandré chose the name Euphoria for the first wine she could call her own. "Just thinking about wine and making wine unleash an explosion of happiness in me," she says.

She wasn't always going to be a winemaker. With top marks for mathamatics, she was all set for a career in commerce. "During my first year at Stellenbosch University, where I was enrolled for a BCom, I met some winemaking students and when I discovered exactly what it was they were doing, that was it! I had to do it too and the following year I enrolled at Elsenburg to study viticulture and winemaking.

"I was so intrigued and I kept tasting, tasting, tasting, so I could build up my wine vocabulary and a memory bank of smell and flavour references.  A lot of the references the people around me were using didn't have any meaning for me, but I quickly found my own.

"I would nose a glass of Sauvignon blanc and think: That reminds me of the khaki bush shrub my father planted at home.  And so I'd go along finding my own cues until I'd created my own compendium."

The 27-year-old assistant white-wine maker at Nederburg is a former Cape Winemakers' Guild Protégé.  The three-year programme gives top young talent the opportunity to be mentored by some of the Cape's foremost winemakers.  After graduating in 2011, she worked with Bernard Veller, Charles Hopkins and Miles Mossop.  She also spent three months working in California for Pinot noir specialists Calera Wine Company.

Euphoria is the Pinot noir she made as a participant in the protégé programme but now her focus is on Nederburg's whites.  "I was lucky enough to meet cellar-master Andrea Freeborough when I was a student.  I was so impressed by the depth of her knowledge but also her willingness to listen to other viewpoints. She's an amazing role model as a winemaker and as a woman. And so is Natasha Boks, who makes the whites under Andrea's direction. I'm learning so much from them."

Chandré has always looked up to Nederburg. "I've lived in Paarl all my life so I've always been aware of the winery and its role in the community. I'm excited to be here, working on my home turf, you could say, but more than that, I've always been impressed by Nederburg's innovation and the tremendous respect it shows for the environment in the way it works. That makes me proud to be a part of the team."

Her favourite wine is The Young Airhawk, the wooded Sauvignon blanc in Nederburg's gourmet Heritage Heroes collection.  The 2015 vintage of this wine was judged the best Sauvignon blanc at the 2016 Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show, earning a trophy and gold medal.  "I just love Sauvignon blanc because it's so site-sensitive. It literally speaks of the soil.  It's also very fragile and must be handled with such care. This wine is brimming with life and flavour, but it has tremendous structure.

"But if you ask me to describe myself as a wine, I'd have to say I'm a Pinot noir – elegant, but with backbone!"

She says her work face might appear tough at times but the discipline is critical.  "I show my soft face after hours!"  That's when she listens to The Cranberries, goes to gym, hikes with her dad or explores the seaside towns of the Cape.

Tasting is still massively important to her.  She's completed several tasting courses and participates in several industry panels.  "I also belong to a tasting group and we always include international examples for context and benchmarking and I'm still building my memory bank.  That's something I'll never stop doing."

22 August 2016