Interview with Morné Vrey

Delaire Graff Estate Winemaker

Morne Vrey smiling in the vineyards of Delaire Graff Estate

How was Delaire Graff Estate born?

In the early 1980s John and Erica Platter, creators of the eponymous Wine Guide, bought a farm nestled between majestic mountains and overlooking the vineyards of Stellenbosch, called Avontuur. It was renamed Delaire, French for ‘from the eyrie’ as it looked down over the most amazing scenery.

Laurence Graff, the founder of Graff, visited the Estate for the first time back in 2003 and felt a strong connection in an instant – it was love at first sight. He acquired the Estate in the same year and went about with dedication and purpose to transform it into South Africa’s most desirable art, hospitality and wine destination.

An avid collector of modern and contemporary art, a world leader within the diamond industry and an equally devoted philanthropist, Graff opened the doors to Delaire Graff Estate in 2009. Having transformed the Estate into an extraordinary luxury destination – The Jewel of the Cape Winelands – nestled in the heart of South Africa’s Stellenbosch Valley.

The incredible views provide the perfect backdrop to our outstanding restaurants, state-of-the-art winery, exclusive Lodges, exuberant landscaping, destination Spa and luxury boutiques.

In your view, what makes your vineyards so special?

Delaire Graff Estate’s unique terroir on the crest of the panoramic Helshoogte Mountain Pass is noted for its high-altitude vineyards, excellent soils and cooling sea breezes. This combination of Maritime and mountain is what allows us to create award-winning wines.

How many varieties of wine do you produce and how many winemakers do you have?

Delaire Graff Estate produces a total of 12 varietals, consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Malbec, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Nacional.

I am the winemaker on the Estate and I’m joined by Riaan Schemper, an eager, equally passionate assistant winemaker.

Can you explain the process of winemaking in more detail?

Winemaking is a natural process that requires little human intervention, and each winemaker guides the process through different techniques. In general, there are five basic components of the winemaking process: harvesting, crushing and pressing, fermentation, clarification, and ageing and bottling.

For unwooded whites and rose wines this process can last anything from 6 – 8 months. Wooded whites undergo a 10 – 12-month winemaking process, whereas red wines tend to take up to 18 – 24 months.

Why does the soil have an impact on the grapes and wine you produce?

There are many soil-related factors that will influence wine quality, such as the depth and composition of the soil, the pH, presence of organic matter, macro and micronutrients, and availability and drainage of water. All these attributions, as well as viticultural practices, can reduce, eliminate, or even optimize these conditions in the attempt of making better wine.

Arguably, the 2 most important factors of soil, for the purpose of growing grapes and making wine, are its structure and texture. These two components will cause a vine to grow and produce grapes differently. In principle, the percentages of clay, sand, silt, loam, and rock present in the soil will determine the grape varieties that would be well suited to produce grapes of the best quality for that specific site.

What attracted you to winemaking?

I grew up in a small town on the Western side of the Little or Klein Karoo in the Western Cape Province of South Africa called Calitzdorp. Here, summer temperatures can reach over 40 degrees Celsius, which led me to take refuge in the cool, soothing temperatures of the wine cellars. It is here where my love and passion for the process of grapes to wine started, the rest is history.

What qualifications do you need to be a winemaker?

A bachelor’s degree in a relevant field can be useful when becoming a winemaker. Examples of useful degrees include oenology, viniculture, and food science. For the science-minded individual, degrees in biology, agricultural technology, or chemistry can be very useful as well. However, the most important attributes of any winemaker are passion and dedication.

Morne Vrey tasting wine in the Delaire Graff cellars

What is your winemaking philosophy? What are you trying to achieve with your wines?

I have a bold, but honest winemaking vision: to keep the integrity of the superlative grapes without over manipulation. They come bursting with a flavour so pure that we only use authentic winemaking methods – and that means capturing the essence of the earth and our South African summers in every grape, bottle, and glass. We aim for red wines that are big in structure with soft tannins and elegance, and white wines which capture the freshness of the harvest.

What are the biggest challenges with winemaking?

The biggest challenges would be weather and the overall health of the vineyards. Nature plays such an important role in the winemaking process, and unpredictability and nature unfortunately go hand-in-hand.

If you have to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner what would you choose?
For red I would choose a Cabernet Sauvignon, and white will always be a Chardonnay.

What can you expect on a visit to Delaire Graff?

A true luxury Winelands experience can be expected at Delaire Graff Estate, a world-leading destination for wine, art and hospitality in an unrivalled setting. Designed with the discerning global traveller in mind, savour breathtaking views of the Stellenbosch Valley, enjoy award-winning wines from our state-of-the-art winery, dine in flagship restaurants and book a stay at one of our Lodges – the ultimate in privacy and exclusivity.

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