The South African wine industry has seen profound changes over the last four decades, much of which has been led by the passion of quality-driven independent winemakers.
Peter Finlayson was one of the winemakers behind this transformation and one of the founders of the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG), which he helped establish 38 years ago with the aim of combining shared knowledge and experience to build the local wine industry.
He completed his oenology degree at Stellenbosch University in 1973, before being accepted as a guest student at the Wine School of Geisenheim in Germany in 1975. On his return to South Africa, he took up a position as caretaker winemaker at Hartenberg, before moving to Boschendal.
In 1979, Peter moved to Hermanus to launch winemaking at Hamilton Russell Vineyards. The first wines at Hamilton Russell vineyards, made in 1981 laid the foundation for the development of the now highly regarded Hemel en Aarde Valley.
After a decade of working in this region, he took on a new challenge: he founded the Bouchard Finlayson winery on land neighbouring Hamilton Russell vineyards.
Today, he directs the production of pinot noir at Bouchard Finlayson – a grape variety for which he has become well known.
“I believe it is the sporting nature of winemaking which appeals to my competitive spirit. I further have an exploring nature which fits ideally into the narrative of winemaking,” he says.
A winemaking destiny
He grew up in Constantia and viticulture runs in the family’s blood.
“I grew up amongst the beautiful vineyards of Stellenbosch and Constantia. Imprinted in my early development were the experiences and smells attached to the vine,” he says. He recalls his mother packing table grapes into wooden boxes for export.
“I loved the journey, per post-war army lorry, to Plumstead station where the cartons of grapes were transferred onto the steam train to reach Table Bay fruit storage facilities before shipment to the UK,” he says.
Peter is part of an extended family of winemaking Finlaysons, and his son, Peter-Allan, inherited this family passion for viticulture, and joined the guild for his own performance and achievement as a winemaker this year. He is one of the newest members to join the CWG and brings with him an exciting, fresh approach to winemaking.
But Peter’s love for nature is not exclusive to the winelands, and he has developed a deep passion for wildlife and photography.
“Whenever the opportunity arises, I head for wild places where the sights, the smells and the sounds bring about a cleansing of the mind.”
But his true love will remain the vineyards that have shaped his career.
Peter helped found the CWG in 1982 to promote local winemaking talent, setting out to embrace the then emerging private winemaking sector and promote these winemakers as contenders in the Cape fine wine scene.
Building the future of winemaking
Today, the CWG serves as the glue that binds South African wine producers who play a vastly different role to the more industrial wine producers by promoting both job creation and tourism, explains Peter.
“This group of fine wine producers has transformed the Western Cape and brought an enormous investment content to the region,” he says.
His passion for winemaking is shared by his counterparts at the CWG, and together they have grown the CWG into a
body representing some of the greatest winemaking talent in the country.
“The CWG has expanded in line with the growth of the private producer movement. Its relevance has grown in leaps and bounds and it has become an institution,” he says.
For Peter, a love of winemaking lies at the heart of all he and his fellow CWG members do.
“There is nothing quite like the fragrance of the fermentation cellar during the height of the harvest.
“Breathing in these moments is second only to the fulfilment that comes with finally laying one’s head on the pillow when the last grapes have been received at the end of the winemaking season,” he says.