KWV's dynamic young winemaker Izele Van Blerk

Izele Van Blerk

One thing about the wine biz: it’s always changing—and usually for the better.

It’s been a few years since I was in South Africa. But I vividly recall a visit to KWV’s hallowed Cathedral Cellar, for so many years the heart of the ‘old’ South African wine industry. At the time, the post-apartheid era was changing at a startling pace in any number of ways. One was the increase in women winemakers, who had been almost unheard of in that very male dominated world—especially at KWV.

Those thoughts crossed my mind this week when I met dynamic, young KWV winemaker Izele Van Blerk at a tasting at Vancouver’s Brix Restaurant. She’s a breath of fresh air, who very much epitomizes the new face of South African wine.

Van Blerk, who grew up in the business (her father was in viticulture), says her team of six at KWV (all under 32 years old) is evenly balanced between the sexes.

She thinks that’s pretty healthy, especially, as she tactfully puts it:

“The guys appreciate women’s attention to detail, and their focus on quality—and that we know what we want.”

“As a group, we’re very passionate. And we want to conquer the world,” she laughs.

Signs are they’re on their way, as KWV (which started out almost a century ago as a cooperative) has started to garner more medals in important home and international competitions.

Here’s a few to check out:.

  • KWV Cathedral Cellar Sauvignon Blanc 2012. “My favourite varietal!,” says Van Blerk— “Although it’s very hard work!. For me, it’s the most undiscovered varietal in the world; and I think South Africa can compete with the best… We get those cooler and warmer climate styles, as well as many others.” This wine sports tropical and citrus notes on top followed by a bright and juicy palate, with hints of lime and mineral and a clean, zesty close. BCLS $16.99 90 pts.
  • KWV Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. “Multi regional with fruit from mainly warmer areas; 16 months in French oak with a touch of American oak.” This wine shows how South Africa often falls neatly somewhere right in between new and old world styles. Good varietal character, with some herbal notes, good fruit acid balance and some decent grip beneath the plushness. A perfect barbecue companion. $16.99 89 pts.
  • KWV Café Culture 2013. “Pinotage is the true South African varietal and I like its versatilty,” says Van Blerk. Fun, distinctive and youthful packaging. This wine actually smells more like Pinotage than it presents on the quite fruity, light to medium bodied palate, with mocha and coffee notes underpinned by easy tannins. BCLS $13.99, 89 pts.

Van Bllerk’s favourite variety? “Petit Verdot: it’s a nightmare in the cellar but makes the most beautiful wine. In fact some people call it ‘Pretty Verdot.’ It’s floral and violet with a lot of structure.”

“I always say it’s a lot like a woman,” she adds. “It has feminine flavours—but it’s also got determination!”

(This material also appears in this weekend’s North Shore News)