Ask Cape Flats-born Jamie Fredericks about her biggest challenge to date and the recently appointed 25-year-old assistant white winemaker at Nederburg is unequivocal in her response: “travelling internationally, on my own and having to rely on people I’ve never met.”
This from a young woman raised by a single mum who works as a registered nurse at Groote Schuur Hospital, as well as her late grandmother, who passed away while Jamie was still in high school.
The overseas trip she refers to was an opportunity to work in California after her studies. Her journey into wine however, started some time before that.
Born in 1992, Jamie was raised in Retreat and matriculated at Norman Henshilwood High School in Constantia. “I always had a passion for science, but I was unsure of the route to take in this industry. Initially, working in the laboratory seemed a proper fit and I enrolled at the University of Stellenbosch to study human life sciences.”
She soon realised it wasn’t for her. “The degree wasn’t broad enough for me,” she says. “So, I switched to molecular biology and biotechnology.
“In my second year, I completed a module on wine biotechnology and I was instantly captured. Biotechnology studies the use of micro-organisms in industrial or commercial applications. In winemaking, a central micro-organism is yeast, which converts sugar in grape juice to alcohol for consumption and enjoyment.”
Being in the heart of wine country, Jamie almost inevitably developed a social appreciation and love for wine too. “Wine is a big part of the Stellenbosch culture and learning about and tasting different wines and all its different expressions led me to wanting to know more,” she says.
Her BSc graduation was promptly followed by appointment in 2015 as a laboratory analyst intern at Distell’s Die Bergkelder.
She recalls the seminal influence of her first harvest at the Stellenbosch winery. “I worked under the supervision of winemakers Kristin Basson and Pieter Badenhorst. Their passion and drive made me realise how important the role of a winemaker is. All the hard work and effort that goes into it makes you enjoy the end-product so much more.”
She quickly realised how handy her biotech specialisation was. Environmental impact has become a major focus of industry worldwide and biotechnology is the field at the cutting edge, she says. “My majors were genetics, biochemistry and microbiology so this gives me an in-depth understanding of the metabolism of micro-organisms and plant material, and how we can manipulate them to achieve a desired outcome in wine, in an environmentally conscious way.”
A year later, she moved closer to production with appointment as a harvest cellar intern. In May this year, she took up her current position at Nederburg in Paarl.
It has been a steep learning curve, although maintaining an objective view has helped. “I always look at a situation from both ends to find a solution,” she explains, adding that she’s most proud of the ability she’s learnt to “not take things too seriously”.
Being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry has also been significant. “I see more women now working in primary and secondary production. However, when looking at past experiences, I have had to work twice as hard just to prove myself as a capable winemaker.”
She didn’t have to look far for a good example to follow though. “My mother is my biggest inspiration,” says Jamie. “She has worked extremely hard to give me the best in life.”
It’s the reason for a very strong conviction: “For me, it’s family over everything,” she says.
Jamie names her career highlight to date without hesitation; it’s that very same August 2016 trip she regards as the biggest challenge. “I received an opportunity through the organisation Communicating for Agriculture Education Programme (CAEP) to work in Napa, California.”
On the way, she fell in love with San Francisco. “It reminds me so much of Cape Town – all business by day and entertainment by night.”
Jamie spent three months in America as a harvest enologist at Hunnicutt Wines.
“The winery is a custom crush facility, and I was able to learn from five different winemakers. During this time, I also had the opportunity to use an optical sorter, which employs a light source to automatically distinguish the choice berries. Only good grapes can make good wine.”
The experience was a perfect fit for her personality too. “I love a challenge,” she says. “That’s what first intrigued me about winemaking. Every day is different, and wine is ever-changing. Looking for new ways or innovations is what I strive for.”
It makes her right at home at Nederburg where traditional wisdom is complemented by new insight and the latest science and technology.
Of course, good wine goes hand in hand with good food and Jamie has a real love for both.
“My mom makes the best pasta with herbs, spices, mince and a white creamy sauce. Whenever I did well at school, she would make this for me. It might sound plain, but for me it was a luxury. I still crave it.”
The more recent addition of wine to her passions – along with Irish whiskey – has expanded her epicurean tastes.
Jamie expresses a passion for chenin blanc, “for its versatility”.
“The wine is used for the making of sparkling, dry, semi-sweet or sweet wine styles, as well as brandy; and, it can handle oak integration. It’s is also less prone to oxidation,” she says.
In pairing food and wine however, she pursues that “perfect match” that brings body and aroma of wine into line with that of a well-made dish.
For her, the perfect matches with each of the five Nederburg Heritage Heroes wines, a range commemorating Nederburg personalities of the past, are simple.
“For example, The Young Airhawk Sauvignon Blanc displays lovely green figs and lemongrass flavours with a creamy finish as a result of partial wood maturation. I love having it with fresh seafood.”
The seafood connection is particularly close to her heart and she admits being a bit of an ocean nut. “I love the smell of an ocean breeze and can’t imagine living far from it.”
Jamie would love to have her own wine label one day. “It will be in remembrance of my late grandmother who played a huge role in my life.”
From gran and mum came much of Jamie’s outlook on life. “It’s important to love who you are and be yourself. Work hard, very hard. Even if you aren’t the smartest or the most talented, hard work surpasses it all. Don’t let past circumstances get in the way of realising your full potential,” she says.
“I want my legacy to show that no matter where you come from, or what situation you are in, there is always a way out. I am from the Cape Flats and that will forever be part of who I am, but should not determine what I accomplish in life.”
When she’s not working, Jamie enjoys exploring the Western Cape, especially the Garden Route; and, pastimes like swimming, wine with friends and walking her puppy. Her secret pleasure for energy replenishment is a facial beauty treatment. “It makes me feel I can conquer anything.”
Jamie is engaged to her boyfriend of nearly five years and lives in Milnerton with her mother, stepfather and younger sister.