Samuel Viljoen, cellar master of Nederburg since 2021, is modest to a fault as he shrugs off his most recent accolade. “Winemaking is a team sport,” he emphasises, making sure to acknowledge his many wine-growing and winemaking colleagues.
The softly spoken preacher’s son has just been featured as one of the world’s top 100 winemakers by The Drinks Business. As a Master Winemaker 100 of 2023, he rubs shoulders with the likes of Olivier Humbrecht MW of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Marimar Torres of Marimar Estate and Peter Gago of Penfolds fame.
His inclusion on the illustrious list is for the 2018 Nederburg Private Bin R163 Cabernet Sauvignon, winner of the Global Master’s 2022 title for Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was made when he was Nederburg’s red-wine maker.
He joined the cellar in 2007 after stints in Oregon in the US and in South Africa at Klein Constantia amongst others.
He concedes that his major strength lies in holding simultaneously onto the detail and the big picture. “When you consider the context of what you are doing, it becomes easier. You recognise how individual details can contribute to nuance and finesse in the execution of your intentions. Getting the run-up details right frees you to give reign to your artistry in the cellar.
“I like to think it’s an approach that helps to make me a good winemaker, and a good and organised leader with the ability to balance our priorities and demands, big and small,” he adds bashfully.
It’s how he succeeds in leading a team that can comfortably create a limited-edition cuvée like the Private Bin R163 Cabernet Sauvignon, at the same time as Baronne, Nederburg’s most popular red blend, produced from Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. A local favourite in the market for 50 years this year, it’s the go-to choice for many.
“If you were to calculate the frequency with which a bottle of Baronne is opened every day somewhere in South Africa, it would work out to one every 15 seconds!”
The winery produces an extensive range of red and white varietal and blended wines for local consumption and export to over 80 markets worldwide.
“It matters just as much to us when a wine connoisseur comes to talk to us at a show about our small-scale specialty wines as when we chat to regular wine lovers who want to tell us what they enjoy about our popular, widely available wines.
“It’s a huge responsibility but also massively motivating when you hear that a wine from our cellars is chosen to mark an important event in someone’s life – a wedding anniversary, a birthday, celebrating a promotion or a homecoming.”
His preference is for reds. “Of course, I love white wines too and so much depends on the occasion but if I have to choose, it will be red. Putting aside for the moment that Cabernet Sauvignon is my first love (only oenologically speaking, otherwise it’s my wife Corlize), I’m also loving working with the Mediterranean varieties so well suited to our climate, such as Shiraz, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Cinsault.
As keen as he is to validate the contribution of the vineyard and cellar teams at Nederburg, he stresses that having four South African winners on this year’s Master Winemaker 100 list is positive for the country. “Graham Weerts of Capensis, Bruce Jack of Bruce Jack Wines, and Dewaldt Heyns of Saronsberg and ourselves. It feels good to be in such company.”