The Proust Q&A: Bruce Jack

Born in Cape Town, Bruce Jack, the son of an architect father and musician mother, is one of the most pioneering and respected winemakers in South Africa. He’s also one of the most thoughtful, philosophical and fanatical about literature, having completed a masters in literature at St. Andrews in Scotland. Launching his own wine project, Flagstone – South Africa’s first winery without an estate – in 1998, he sold it to Constellation a decade later and it is now owned by Accolade where Bruce is chief winemaker for all of the company’s South African wines. He also has a side project, The Drift farm in Overberg, where he makes a Pinot called There Are Still Mysteries, a Year of the Rooster Rosé built to age and designed to be the kind of rosé James Bond would want to drink, and an ever-evolving red blend called A Moveable Feast formed of shifting amounts of Malbec, Shiraz, Tannat, Touriga Nacional and Barbera. To cap it off, he makes cider with winemaker Paul Cluver. Bruce lives in Cape Town with his wife Penelope, who designs the labels for The Drift, and two sons.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To recognise happiness and be content that it will surely pass and be balanced by the same amount of unhappiness.

What is your greatest fear?

I fear all sorts of things, until I think about them long enough.

Which living person do you most admire?

My father, David Jack.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I think I can drink as much as Ernest Hemingway. I can’t.

What is your current state of mind?

I feel like an unfinished, intriguingly problematic, potentially breathtakingly beautiful Haiku.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

I love feistiness, individual style, and the ability to bodysurf. As a young boy I had a crush on George from The Famous Five.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Ameliorate”. I love how it ebbs and flows on my palate.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

The instinctual human heart loves family. In my head I love freedom above everything.

When and where were you happiest?

I distrust happiness. I am fascinated by calmness, which comes from stillness – of your head and heart. I find calmness in community service, from surfing and towards the bottom of a bottle of true wine – true to the soil and climate, true to the vineyard, true to our craft, true to the end consumer.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I’d like to be a proficient acupuncturist and be able to access more of my left brain when faced with the horror of a spreadsheet.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

More rhythm please.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Surviving early adulthood was a major miracle. I really shouldn’t be here.

Where would you most like to live?

I would love to plant the first vineyard on Mars. We will need wine up there and it would be a very cool project to run.

What is your most treasured possession?


What is your most marked characteristic?

I’ve got no idea how people perceive me and wish I was more interested. I am unfortunately characterised by my inability to compromise. This complicates life and really isn’t worth the drama it can cause.

Who are your favorite writers?

Shakespeare, Tom Robins, Stephen Watson, Ernest Hemingway, Seneca, Douglas Dunn, Philip Larkin, Tim Winton, Robert Frost, Roald Dahl, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, Malcolm Gladwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Katherine Mansfield, Chinua Achebe, e e cumings, William Boyd, Dylan Thomas, Donna Tartt.

Who is your hero of fiction?

Santiago, the fisherman, from Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

What is it that you most dislike?

Scorpions that crawl under your pillow while you are sleeping, parents who pass on racism to their children, exclusive religious dogma and corrupt politicians – all more or less the same thing.

What is your greatest regret?

I will probably regret how much this questionnaire reveals. Next spring I’ll regret that I didn’t plant more trees on my farm (I always do). When I kick the bucket I’ll probably regret not planting more Barbera and Albariño for the next generation.

What is your motto?

Everything in moderation. Including excess.

Who would be your ideal dinner party guests and what three wines would you serve them?

I’d braai fillets of wild fallow deer that have roamed our mountain farm for over 100 years. My wife would be there. We’d invite the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, scientist Marie Curie, my musician mother to play some flamenco guitar, and a famous great grand-daughter of ours.

Our guest of honour would be ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ whom all humans are related to. I’d serve a 1997 Flowers Vineyard ‘Moon Select’ Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast, a wine my great grand-daughter will still make, and an ancient ‘Black’ wine from Cahors (circa 200 AD).

The last would have to be stolen by the same time-traveler who would round up some of the guests and be about a year old, as they wouldn’t have had the modern luxury of sulphur dioxide. We would taste them blind and play wine options. Happy days!

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