I met the very lovely Abi Mitton, Marketing Manager of South Africa’s prestigious wine-making brand, The Winery of Good Hope at the wine-tasting event at The Meat Co. My brief chitchat with her a few months ago gave me a deeper insight into the world of wines. Did you know you actually get degrees specializing as a wine connoisseur? And how about eco-friendly wine-making, and the pairing of different wines with different meals?
Abi is a walking-talking encyclopedia on wines, and here she shares insider information on the wine-making industry.
All images in this post are from The Winery of Good Hope.
When did you discover your love for wines?
I was brought up round wine as my parents knew a bit about European wines having visited many countries and there was usually a bottle of wine at mealtimes. As children we were allowed a splash of wine with water on very special occasions! I have to say that my real passion for wine was born when I lived in Italy for a year. I was there ‘studying’ but spent most of my time sampling the gastronomic and oeno-tastic delights in each region.
Tell us how you turned your passion for wines into a profession. What special qualifications did you need?
I realised that even from one country there was so much diversity, so imagine what the whole world could offer?! And I knew the continual changes in wine-making techniques and changes from vintage to vintage meant that the world of wine was forever changing and moving – a very exciting and appealing industry in which to work! I finished my degree (Italian and Business Studies) and then posted an advert for myself on a wine jobs website and I enrolled in a WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) course at the Northern Wine Academy in UK.
Before I managed to do this though I was offered a job at Direct Wines/Laithwaites. I worked there for 6 years in various roles. It is a fantastic company and I learned so much. They put me through the WSET courses up to Diploma.
Any tips for a novice wanting to join the wine industry?
Definitely do the WSET level 1, 2 and/or 3 courses. These are internationally recognised and there are tutors all around the world. http://www.wsetglobal.com/ These courses provide a really sound background to wine in manageable chunks. Then if you’re ready for more in depth studying then do the Diploma.
What is your absolute favorite wine, and why? Has your choices changed since moving to South Africa?
Oooh that is a tough one as it can depend on what mood I am in, what the weather is like, who I’m drinking with and what I’m eating … but if I have to choose then a good Condrieu such as Andre Perret Coteau du Chery, that is my favourite.
Yes my tastes have changed since I moved to SA though. There is obviously a lot of choice in the wines that are produced here, but I’ve been introduced to a whole new world of Chenin which is really exciting and the grape variety is just so versatile.
How are South African wines different from the rest of the world?
South Africa is the only wine producing region in the world that can successfully bridge the gap between Old World and New World wines. That is stylistically, partly due to its history and heritage. We can do big volume as well as artisanal, small producer wines. There is arguably not another region in the world where there is this much happening in terms of the dynamics of the trade. It is a very exciting time.
Please give us an insight into The Winery of Good Hope’s style of wine making, and how they manage to also be eco-friendly.
I think the best way to answer this is from our intro page on our website: The Winery of Good Hope is more than just a winery. It’s an approach. An alternative way of thinking, being and doing.
Yes, you will find us in the prestigious wine-making region of Stellenbosch, in South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. But we aren’t like other wine producers. Why? Because we’re not into all the flashy stuff that’s often associated with our industry. We just want to make quality wine with a conscience.
At our cellar on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountain, we make great wines using traditional, natural viticultural and winemaking methods. We’re also fully accredited for environmental, ethical, and social-upliftment practices. That’s why we called ourselves The Winery of Good Hope.
What’s in store for 2016 from The Winery of Good Hope?
Well, we are constantly exploring new possibilities and our wine-making team is always on the lookout to try something new and exciting.
We have just launched a range of wines called Thirst – they are natural wines, with lower alcohol and lower sulphur. We didn’t fine or filter the reds and so they are throwing a deposit already and the white has crystals in the bottle.
These wines really reflect the purity of fruit and they are very much terroir driven. Our wine-making team have the bit between the teeth and are keen to keep exploring this style of wine (which is perfect for spring and summer as we chill them all – even the reds).
Have you had a go at wine-making yourself? Tell us about the experience!
When I joined the Winery earlier this year the winemakers were in the middle of harvest and I spent two days in the cellar. Man, they work hard!
I helped with some pumpovers, Angela, our sales manager and I cleaned out a tank after fermentation – there were a LOT of grapes in there! I would like to spend more time in the cellar this year if I can although I have a sneaky suspicion that I might not want to return to my day job if I do!
Please suggest a wine pairing with the following:
- Cheese & Dairy Produce – Meursault Clos des Corvees de Citeau 2013 or our Radford Dale Renaissance Chenin Blanc 2013
- Poultry, Meats & Cold Cuts – Chardonnay goes well with Roast chicken. Our he Winery of Good Hope unoaked Chardonnay is particularly good for a roast. For cold cuts I would opt for a Pinot Noir – Foillard Morgon Cote du Py if you can get your hands on some!
- Desserts – Klein Constantia Vin de Constance is amazing but I also love Trockenbeerenauslese from Germany.
What wines are best for using in cooking?
It depends what you’re cooking but for a spaghetti bolognaise or Italian dishes, I would use Italian wines.
If you’re cooking something French then use a good quality (not necessarily a Grand Cru Classe but not the cheapest wine you can find) French wine.
The food of a country tends to go with its food. If you’re creating a dish of your own then look at what you’re creating and try to use a wine with the flavour characteristics of the ingredients. For example, if you’re doing a beef casserole which has spices and herbs then use a Syrah based wine as this should have similar spicy flavours which will complement the dish.