Elmarie Botes is one of the latest members of the Nederburg winemaking team. Having just completed her first harvest, Botes is responsible for the winery's white wine.
Botes journey into winemaking began at Lanzerac Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, followed by Groot Constantia, Steenberg, Kanonkop and Jordan as an intern. After showing promise, Botes was chosen in 2011, to complete a three-year internship with the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) as part of its Protégé Programme.
In 2013, she went on to assist with the making of Chardonnay at Domain Pattes Loup in Courgis, Chablis in France. She then joined Fleur du Cap in Stellenbosch as an assistant white winemaker and was thereafter appointed as white winemaker in 2016, a position she held until assuming the role of white winemaker at Nederburg in late 2017.
Here Botes shares more with us on her first harvest at Nederburg, why she chose a career in winemaking and most importantly, her message for #WomensMonth...
What made you choose a career in winemaking?
I thoroughly enjoy worthwhile challenges, and nature that sustains us all. It is no wonder I fell in love with the idea of winemaking while on a cellar tour with my father as a grade 11 learner at the Hoër Meisieskool Bloemhof in Stellenbosch. My senses were instantly awakened and that was it. Then and there I decided to enrol for the BSc Viticulture and Oenology degree programme offered at Stellenbosch University. I knew that it would be a demanding industry, but I believe I have the determination and drive to succeed.
Who or what inspires you?
My parents are my inspiration. They worked really hard to ensure that my engineer brother and I could reach our dreams.
What does a day in your life look like?
The reality with winemaking is that no two days are ever the same! Harvesting season is a really exciting time – when there is such a lovely vibe and energy in the vineyards and cellar. It’s usually during this time of the year, roughly from January to April, that my colleagues and I work very long hours.
But generally speaking, my day as winemaker normally involves aspects such as management of cellar staff, production planning, vineyard visits (especially during harvest times) and daily cellar tastings to help make the wide range of top-quality white wines produced by Nederburg. I also handle public tastings and present wines at events. I thoroughly enjoy travelling. Something that is always a highlight, is chatting to consumers to find out what appeals to them. It’s also very important for me to keep abreast of changing consumer trends.
Tell us more about your first harvest at Nederburg – was it exciting? How did it make you feel?
It was incredible, although not without challenges! The 2018 vintage was particularly difficult as a result of the drought, yet we managed to source grapes of outstanding quality. I learned so much and found it so exciting, seeing the grapes come into the cellar for a new vintage of wine to be made. The anticipation was palpable. And now seeing a wine evolve from soil to bottle is just magical.
Do you think it’s important to have a month dedicated to women? Why?
I think it’s good to celebrate and reflect on women’s achievements, especially pertaining to women who have already succeeded and continue to make an impact in industries traditionally dominated by men, such as the winemaking and agriculture sectors. These ladies become role models for the younger generation.
Be true to yourself and your values, believe in your dreams and work hard to achieve them.
The role of women in winemaking – how do you think it has shaped the industry?
As mentioned above, wine has long been a male-dominated business. This paradigm is slowly but surely changing with more and more women enrolling for winemaking courses and degree programmes, entering the industry and making a real impact. I truly admire those women who went before me to forge a path and place for women winemakers in the country. Their significant contribution, often without any recognition or real access to business opportunities, makes it truly remarkable. This has made it far easier for us, the next generation, to take up positions in the South African winemaking industry and make our mark.
What barriers did you face, as a woman, becoming successful in your career, and how have you overcome them? Are there any worthwhile challenges that you enjoy?
Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I have not personally experienced major gender stereotyping. At Nederburg, there are more women winemakers than men! Andrea Freeborough is our cellar-master – she leads the winemaking team. I make the white wines and am assisted by Jamie Fredericks, who is also female. The men in our team, Samuel Viljoen and Heinrich Kulsen, make Nederburg’s red wines.
Winemaking is all about teamwork – everyone has a role to play, and actually that has nothing to do with gender. For me, the issue is about achieving a balance between work and home. Meeting all the travel and after-hours work commitments can be challenging. It requires a huge amount of planning.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to women pursuing a career in winemaking?
Be brave. Be resilient. Be hungry for success.
What is it that made you fall in love with winemaking?
While you drink a glass of wine, it takes you to a specific place, to a specific time, and makes you part of the story. I enjoy the way wine brings different people together, connecting us all, and the way that one can pair wine with food. I consider this to be more art than science. But above all, I love a challenge and working with people – that’s what makes winemaking so appealing to me.
Who has been your biggest influence and/ or role model?
My parents have always been and still are my biggest influence. In terms of a role model, I admire our multi-talented cellar-master, Andrea Freeborough, tremendously. She is trained as both a viticulturist and winemaker and combines finely-honed technique with a keen appetite for innovation as she continues the Nederburg cellar’s award-winning track record.
What is your message for Women's Month?
There is so much potential in our country, but we need to work together to achieve greatness. Nothing great can be achieved in isolation. We need to take hands and break through perceived boundaries that are often not even real, just a construct in our minds.
Any words of wisdom you would like to share with women in winemaking – and beyond?
Be true to yourself and your values, believe in your dreams and work hard to achieve them. Self-confidence is an important part of making your mark in this world. Never be afraid to ask for help. Knowledge is power. Always stay humble.