ZONNEBLOEM shows how Micro-Managing works

Annelie Viljoen, Deon Boshoff, Bonny van Niekerk and Elize Coetzee

Zonnebloem’s dynamic young winemaking team exudes an energetic sense of purpose in wanting to extend the strong affection felt for the brand.

“There is an extraordinary public affinity with Zonnebloem and this is something we want to protect in the face of an increasing array of choices for winelovers,” says cellarmaster Deon Boshoff, who was appointed to his present position last year. “How we plan to take people with us is by aiming for even greater balance and elegance, and greater purity of fruit expression.”

He is surrounded by women and believes their influence has been very beneficial. Not only are the two winemakers women but so is the viticulturist. Bonny van Niekerk makes the red wines and Elize Coetzee the white wines while Annelie Viljoen works very closely with supplier growers. “Their combined talents and skills have nuanced our winemaking.”

He says this is the result of an increasingly detailed understanding of the profiles of the individual vineyard blocks from which they source the fruit and the greater capacity to micro-manage them in the vineyard and the cellar.

“We might be young but we are very mindful of Zonnebloem’s long-standing heritage,” says Boshoff. “We regard it as a privilege to be working with so many suppliers who have been delivering their grapes to our cellars, in some instances, over three and four generations. Not only do they understand our needs but we can and do learn from them all the time. They impart great experience and tradition, while we bring a modern mindset. It’s a great combination. All our suppliers – whether very long-term or of more recent association – are collectively committed to achieving greater restraint but also greater vitality in Zonnebloem’s new-generation wines.”

Viljoen, who has completed four harvests at Zonnebloem as viticulturist, says most of the grapes for the brand are sourced from the Stellenbosch area – from the Helderberg to Stellenboschkloof,  Jonkershoek, Devon Valley, Bottelary and Lynedoch.  She also sources from Darling, Malmesbury and the area around Perdeberg and is able to select for Zonnebloem the finest fruit from over 330 individual blocks, each with its own very specific set of characters.

All the grapes are hand-picked. There is no exception to this rule.

“The advantage of working with suppliers over the long term means we can better identify the best-performing blocks for our purposes,” she says. “With access to a wide spectrum of sites, soils, slopes, cultivars, clones, rootstocks and trellising systems, as well as mesoclimates, we have an enormous range from which to draw in choosing the building blocks for each of our wines. Close monitoring of all these vineyards over time allows us to establish which blocks complement each other, when it comes to the sometimes simultaneous timing of their harvesting and, of course, when we blend in the cellar.”

Viljoen says there is a strong sense of camaraderie among suppliers but also healthy competition, with Zonnebloem rewarding the best producer annually. “The criteria are designed to continually promote quality, innovation and service levels, so we get the best fruit possible. That we are now able to produce five limited-edition wines is a healthy indication of our increased access to really outstanding grapes.”

Coetzee says that working in such close collaboration with suppliers and getting to know the specific characters of micro-sites allows for planning wines in the vineyard. “Harvesting is also better orchestrated so we get the fruit in at optimal ripeness and we can be even more focused than ever before in vinifying and blending.  We want to keep the interesting, multi-dimensional characters of our wines but introduce a greater degree of subtlety.”

By way of example, she says the wood treatment of Zonnebloem’s Chardonnay has been adjusted to give greater expression to the inherent fruit, citrus and minerality of the wine.

Bonny van Niekerk, who has been making the reds since 2007, says five vintages have given her the time to get to know the vineyards, to learn what to expect from them. “We are allowing cultivar characters to speak for themselves. We’ve changed our tannin and wood management to create a more velvety profile without losing the full-bodied, mouth-filling and fruit succulence of our reds.”

Boshoff explains: “When you taste newer vintage Zonnebloem wines, you won’t encounter a radical difference but recognise a new vitality. This is work in progress, so watch this space.”