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Van Rensburg: working with Rolland an ‘eye-opener’

Outspoken South African winemaker Andre van Rensburg has spoken of his pleasure of working with consultant Michel Rolland calling it an “eye-opening” experience.

Speaking at a lunch with members of the trade in London, van Rensburg said he had decided to work with a consultant in mid-2013 and had pursued two prominent Bordelais eventually securing the services of Rolland.

Van Rensburg said he met with Rolland and the two of them “got on incredibly well”, with Rolland agreeing to come out to Stellenbosch in December 2013 and beginning consulting full time with the 2014 vintage.

Despite the surprise of those who work alongside him, van Rensburg stressed it was important to break the routine one becomes habituated to after 16 years doing the same thing, saying it was “quite dangerous” to think “you know it all”.

In fact he expressed regret he hadn’t started working with a consultant – and Rolland in particular – sooner, saying: “I enjoy working with him and I’m a little frustrated I didn’t go that way earlier.”

He said in particular that Rolland’s approach had made him look differently at certain sites he had “set ideas about” and said he’d been made to feel “inferior” by Rolland’s approach and “focus” when it came to making blends.

“It was an eye-opener,” he said, “it made me feel inferior, he was putting together blends in an hour, an hour and a half, that would have taken me a month.

“He’s so focused – it’s wonderful…but exhausting as well.”

Looking back at his time working at Harlan in California in 2006 (where Rolland also consults) he noted that “now I’m working with him it all makes sense.”

Although the tasting was billed as: “A meeting of minds or a clash of wills?” the outcome had very clearly been a success with van Rensburg singing the Frenchman’s praises.

“All my preconceived ideas went overnight. He [Rolland] never said ‘pick riper’ or ‘add more oak’.”

In fact van Rensburg said he was surprised that Rolland was keen on low sulphur bottlings and he even thought his oak use was “not enough!”

“I’m probably more of an a**hole to work with than he’ll ever be,” he stated.

He joked that the only “negative” (in inverted commas) about working with Rolland was “finding the flipping space [in the winery] for all the press fractions and I know he’s just going to put it all back together again!

“Overtime for my staff has gone through the roof.”

But, ultimately he concluded that all the extra work in the vineyard and cellar that Rolland demanded had led to “softer tannins, a focus on fruit quality and overall balance. [There’s] a lot more harmony in the wine.”

“I do enjoy working with him,” he stressed, adding: “It’s rejuvenated me.”

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