SPEAKERS PROFILE - HEINRICH KULSEN


When Heinrich Kulsen (24) was considering his options after school, he couldn't decide between a career in drama or chemistry so he chose both by becoming a winemaker. "In this job, you can direct nature up to a point, but then it is out of your hands. That's pretty humbling and there's plenty drama in knowing that," he explains.

Nederburg's assistant white-wine maker, he still can't get over the irony of working a stone's throw from where he grew up in Paarl, after a detour that took him first to Stellenbosch and then, Walker Bay.

Heinrich, who started at Nederburg in the spring of 2014, absolutely relishes his job, as much for the scope and exposure it offers as for the discipline it imposes. Pointing from his window in the cellar offices, he says: "You can almost see my high school from here, that's how close it is. But in terms of what I have learned, I have travelled an immense distance, although knowing, of course, how much further there is to go."

He is thrilled by working with well-established, as well as lesser-known varietals, while acknowledging the complexities of making wine across a range of tiers. "Where else would I get the chance but at Nederburg to work so extensively with the classic cultivars like Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc but then also with Roussanne and Grenache blanc? Making both specialty connoisseur and popular wines teaches you to be focused but flexible. It's a hugely exciting balancing act."

He is astonished by the erudition and taste memory of his mentor, cellar master Razvan Macici.  "He can taste dozens of tank and barrel samples over a few hours and make very considered comments about each one. And then the next day he will single out one or two to come back to that he's thought about again at home. He will make very precise observations about them and then offer additional insights. That's an awesome skill I hope to achieve one day."

He knew he had chosen the right path when he tasted his first Chablis as a winemaking student at Elsenburg Agricultural College.  "Experiencing Chardonnay from Burgundy opened my eyes and gave me a whole new perspective on its exquisite purity of aroma and taste."

It was an experience to be continued when he spent a month as a winemaking intern in Burgundy, in 2013.

The opportunity to intern in France, working with both Chardonnay and Pinot noir, came about when he was chosen for the prestigious Cape Winemakers' Guild protégé programme, a mentorship initiative for winemaking graduates showing exceptional talent.

The three-year programme that included what he describes as the "life-changing" cellar stint in France, also involved three one-year internships with some of South Africa's top vintners.  "I was lucky to have worked at Ernie Els Wines, Villiera Wines and Hermanuspietersfontein Vineyards."

He is especially proud of a white blend he created for the annual Cape Winemakers Guild Auction, sold to raise funds for other protégés.

It was an achievement that galvanised him to try still harder. "I have to up my game every day. I need to prove myself to myself but it's fun. I'm having a huge adventure and am so grateful to be learning from Razvan and white-wine maker, Natasha Boks - about winemaking, cellar management, about people and marketing."

He reckons if he hadn't studied drama at school, he would never have had the confidence to present tastings now. "It keeps you on your toes, when you are accountable for what you are presenting but I'm up to the challenge."

And he is benchmarking himself all the way, having taken two wine evaluation courses and started a tasting circle with his colleague, Kristin Basson, Nederburg's assistant red- wine maker.  "It's important to keep abreast of new developments in wine in South Africa and other parts of the world. The more we learn, the more we know what there is still to learn!"