Young people invigorating the SA wine industry

Nederburg wine-maker Natasha Boks.

Natasha Boks is one of the fresh new influences in South Africa’s wine industry. As one of the big winners of the 2016 Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show, this Nederburg winemaker is helping to overthrow the stereotypes associated with the industry.

So, how did this young woman get into winemaking?

“Born and bred in Stellenbosch, one was always surrounded by the vineyards, and as a child my grandfather used to have his collection of wines, which was sacred to him. I could never understand why these wines were so important to him, because he was an art teacher. I only realised why after I had finished school. I got my first books on wine-tasting and wine knowledge from him,” she says.

“I loved science and geography, and this made me wonder whether I could combine the two. I realised that you could study oenology and viticulture at Stellenbosch University. I won a scholarship to study viticulture (which focuses on the vineyard) and winemaking at the university, and graduated in 2007.

“Initially I was going to be a viticulturist, but when I came to Nederburg in 2008 for a harvest, I was totally captivated by the attitude to wine in the cellar,” Natasha adds. “I could see this wasn’t a job or a career, but a lifestyle. I found that kind of intensity and passion so contagious, that there and then I really wanted to be a winemaker.”

She was appointed white winemaker at Nederburg in 2013: “I’ve worked nine vintages so far and I can promise you, no vintage has been the same.”

What is it about winemaking that appeals to her? “I love the physicality of it: the breeze on your face when in the vineyards, the smell of the soil, the weight of the grapes in your hand, the bite into the berry and its clarity of fruit flavours that you strive to capture in the wine back in the cellar,” she says.

And being a woman in an industry normally associated with men? “Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I have not really experienced any gender stereotyping. Winemaking is all about teamwork – everyone has a role to play, and that has nothing to do with gender.

“I encourage women to become part of the industry. There is so much excitement in South African wine, and international critics are calling us the most interesting wine-producing country right now. There’s dynamism, courage and a wave of innovation that is just igniting the industry. I tell all my winemaker friends in the industry: be a part of it.”

She is particularly proud of the trophy awarded to The Young Airhawk 2015, judged the best wooded Sauvignon Blanc of the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show: “It’s a wooded Sauvignon Blanc that pays tribute to Johann Graue’s son, Arnold Graue senior played a key role in improving viticulture and winemaking standards in South Africa. Like his father, Arn-old introduced many technical innovations and was renowned for his winemaking prowess. Trained as a winemaker in Europe, his Nederburg wines won many prizes at the Cape during his short career in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He died tragically at 29 in a light aircraft crash.”

She was also delighted with the trophy awarded to Private Bin Eminence 2012, which earned the highest score in the unfortified dessert wine category.

Natasha has won several accolades over the years – including a gold medal for the 2013 vintage of The Young Airhawk at the 2015 International Wine & Spirits Competition in the UK, while the 2014 version of the same wine is a 2016 Platter’s South African Wine Guide five-star wine – and more are bound to come her way.

Karen Thomas, Old Mutual head of brand, says a core aim of Old Mutual’s sponsorships is to make a meaningful difference. “We are excited to play a key role in discovering talent, setting benchmarks and highlighting the industry’s excellence both locally and on the international stage.”