Women make their mark in winemaking at Nederburg

Women in wine-making at Nederburg wine estate from left, are Zinaschke Steyn, Imellia Prins, Jamie Williams and Isabel Teubes.

There’s a potent feminine forcefield pulsing through the cellars of Nederburg. It’s an energy that comes from four women used to working alongside each other, women who during this Women’s Month can be honoured for their exceptional contribution to wine-making.

With Zinaschke Steyn, making Nederburg’s reds, supported by Imellia Prins, Jamie Williams makes the whites (under the direction of winemaker Pieter Badenhorst), while Isabel Teubes is the viticulturist who oversees the winery’s own vineyards and works closely with its network of supplier-growers across most of the Cape’s premier wine-growing districts.

Ms Teubes is the one with the direct link to the fruit delivered to the cellars, mainly for red wines (dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet-based bends) but also whites.

Samuel Viljoen, Nederburg’s cellar-master, who heads the team, is awed by their communal warmth and respect. “There’s a rhythm to how they work. They understand and accommodate each other. They help each other. They make suggestions to one another. Sometimes these suggestions are agreed on, other times not. But it doesn’t matter.

“They just have a way of handling whatever it is, with grace and calm. What they’ve created amongst themselves is very agreeable and professional. It has such a positive influence on everyone else too.”

Mr Viljoen had big shoes to fill when he was appointed to his position in 2021, after many years of making the winery’s reds. But he’s more than keeping pace as the cellar continues to bring home trophies, medals, and high scores.

“The credit must go to the team. We are individuals who work in concert. It’s that ethos that keeps a good flow. But even so, these women are exceptional and I’m proud to call them my colleagues. They are all very detailed, very thorough, very driven, and very committed to wine excellence but in different ways,” he acknowledges the team effort.

Ms Steyn is serious but there’s a fun, playful side to her too. She was all set to become a chemical engineer but then switched to viticulture and winemaking.

“I like to get my hands dirty and be physically involved. I relish being challenged. It inspires me and brings clarity. I see each vintage as an entirely new project. It’s the anticipation of new parameters, demanding new decisions, no matter how nuanced. Every day is different and knowing that is what gets me up in the morning,” she says.

While Ms Prins is more of an introvert and highly analytical. She first experienced wine as an exchange student in Germany and that decided her career path as a winemaker.

Soon after graduating, she preferred to focus on wine quality analysis through microbiology and laboratory work. Later, she began secondary winemaking, blending wines.

“It was a fantastic foundation – evaluating quality, understanding in measurable terms what determines balance, texture, weight, palate length and the harmony evident in all those elements. It has helped me to be more intuitive.”

Ms Williams, the estate describes as a hands-on realist who tries to keep all the balls in the air. She likens winemaking to motherhood. “There’s a humility that comes when you accept that however much you plan, organise, and arrange, you can’t always control what’s going to happen.

“Aiming for perfection is naive. Just be gentle with yourself. Stay sharp and keep calm. Do what needs to be done and give it your best shot,” she says.

Ms Teubes, always the pragmatist, has learned to trust her instinct. “My family is a farming family. I’ve been doing stuff related to winemaking and viticulture since the age of ten. Before I’d reached my teens, I’d been taught that the golden rule for keeping a healthy vine is to maintain balance between the rooting system and the canopy.

“After a while you develop a sixth sense about what a vineyard needs to thrive and that frees you to notice new things and new improvements to be made,” she adds knowingly.

Mr Viljoen adds: “These four women are in themselves a magnificent blend. Nederburg would not be where it is right now, without them.”

Zinaschke Steyn
Jamie Williams
Isabel Teubes
Imellia Prins