Boela Gerber: From humble expressions to greatness
21 May 2014
The distinct aroma of freshly pressed grapes fills my being as I enter the slightly cool cellar at Groot Constantia on a cloudy Cape Town morning. I make a stop at the wine tasting counter enquiring about the man I came to see today.
I am told, in no uncertain terms, that I will find him in the cellar, busy with his wines…
At the cellar I am introduced to a man as humble and down to earth as the simplicity of his office. Nothing glamorous here, just authentic knowledge, passion and a commitment to producing quality wines.
Meet Boela Gerber, winemaker at Groot Constantia.
THE FOUNDATIONS OF PRODUCING GREAT WINES
Boela’s winemaking philosophy entails minimal interference. He stresses how important it is to retain the character and personality of the wines made here. Initially he spent his time putting the systems, that ensure quality production, into place but he says devoting his time in the vineyard has had the biggest impact on the style of wine produced - “early intervention”, as he likes to call it. When poor quality grapes arrive at the cellar, it’s too late to intervene. Will the wine have a green character; will it be too thin or not complex enough? These are the typical questions he constantly ponders about.
Whilst sharing the basics of viticulture with me, he asks whether I knew that the French do not have a word for “winemaker”. They prefer the term viticulturist, cellar master or oenologist. The expression we use has been largely developed by the Australians and Americans.
Clearly passionate about his favourite subject, he continues to muse about the versatility of his job and adds that a wine needs to be expressive, but for the right reasons. He mentions that it is always a team effort, especially when it is a tough harvest. This is where he is able to tap into the more than 37 years’ combined experience of his team, consisting of Jean Naude (General Manager) who assists with projections, cultivar mix, and the estimated balance between old and young vines, Floricius Beukes (Viticulturist and Estate Manager) and Danie Keulder, the assistant winemaker.
14 HARVESTS AT GROOT CONSTANTIA
Boela obtained his degree (BSc Viticulture & Oenology) at Stellenbosch University in 1995. His postgraduate grooming began at Stellenzicht under the mentorship of André van Rensburg (currently at Vergelegen).
- After 2 years Van Rensburg resigned, leaving Gerber as cellar master for the 1998 harvest.
- Thereafter he spent two years at Rickety Bridge as winemaker/vineyard manager, during which he gained invaluable hands on experience in the vineyard.
In 2002 he won the Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year Award. He has also worked harvests at the following international wineries:
- Chateau Angelus in St Emilion, France
- Chateau Merlet, Bordeaux, France
- Villa Palazzo in Tuscany, Italy
- Bodega Baigorri in Rioja, Spain
- Chateau de Sours, Bordeaux, France
- Peay Vineards , California, USA
His winemaking friends include André van Rensburg (Vergelegen), Hermann Kirschbaum (Buitenverwachting), Duncan Savage (Cape Point Vineyards), Adi Badenhorst (Badenhorst Family Wines) and Bartho Eksteen (Hermanuspietersfontein).
When asking Boela what his biggest challenge as winemaker is, he answers that it is to create consistent quality across the varied Groot Constantia range. Each label needs to be worthy of the Groot Constantia brand. He honestly believes that all of their wines need to offer great quality – not just the premium range.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT BOELA
Which wine is open in your kitchen right now?
Of course it would be more than one: Buitenverwachting Sauvignon Blanc, Chateau Pesquie from the Cotes du Ventoux in the Southern Rhône and a Gouverneurs White.
Which new winemakers are you most excited about?
Ryan Mostert - ex-Reyneke Organic Wines (Ryan has just left Reyneke to start his own label)
Donovan Rall – Rall Wines and Vuurberg
Chris Alheit – Alheit Vineyards
How do you spend your days off?
What is that? Mountain biking – I am not competitive but we live in such a beautiful part of the country, it is meant to be explored! I recently got married to Michaela (sorry ladies, Boela is taken), and since she is still studying towards her Masters in physiotherapy, we are going on a belated honeymoon in France where we are planning to do our first marathon together. So when I’m not on my bike, I’m training for the Medoc marathon.
What is the best wine you’ve ever tasted?
1967 Cheval Blanc from St Emilion, Bordeaux
The most interesting?
Adi Badenhorst opened a bottle of Vina Tondonia Gran Riserva Blanco 1974 not too long ago. It is a white wine, made from Spanish variety Viura, very different, complex character, unique and expressive.
What is your favourite wine region in the world — other than your own?
St Emilion in Bordeaux, France (I am sure this is one of the reasons for their planned honeymoon destination).
What would people be surprised to know about you?
They would have to ask my wife!
Nice side-step Boela!
What is the oldest and most expensive bottle in your cellar?
1791 Grand Constance
As our time came to a quick close, I was burning to know which career path Boela would have chosen if he hadn’t opted for this one. His answer reflects his deep respect for the earth and its sustainability:
“Environmental Impact Studies and how to remain sustainable. We were too stupid for too long and now people want to go live on Jupiter and Mars”, he says without thinking twice.
And what is Boela’s advice to other aspiring winemakers?
“Strive to be successful, but stay balanced.”
As I drive out of the estate, I notice that the clouds have lifted and the sun illuminates the well-kept lawns and recently harvested vineyards. It seems like it is going to be another great day for winemaking at Groot Constantia.