Carrie’s Corner: From Benoni to world class cellar master – Alastair Rimmer

In 2014, Kobus Basson, owner of Kleine Zalze, had announced that he had appointed Alastair Rimmer as the cellar master. Our resident wine expert Carrie Adams chats to Rimmer, an internationally acclaimed cellar master. Raised in Benoni and now a world class wine maker, Rimmer shares his story. – Jarryd Neves

Alastair Rimmer on how he got into winemaking:

I was planning to study horticulture and looking at going to Pietermaritzburg. I grew up in an English speaking family, picked up a bit of Afrikaans at school, but nothing that would allow me to study in Afrikaans. By chance, I was in Stellenbosch. My parents bought a property in the Cape and I was bored and went and had a look at the campus of Stellenbosch University.

I walked in to find the horticulture department. I walked up the stairs of this building – which I believed to be the horticulture department – and I ran into a professor. I asked him where the horticulture department was. He directed me to where they were, but he said, “why are you going to horticulture? Viticulture is much better. Four years down the line, I walked into my first viticulture lecture and there was Professor Eben Archer – the one and only. In that 15 minutes I chatted to him, he talked about growing wine. It fascinated me, the concept.

On places that he’s worked:

I’ve been lucky enough to have touched base in most of the major centres, for lack of a better word. I worked in Washington State – I spent six months there after leaving Augusta. I got down to New Zealand for a Cellar Rats season, for four months. There, I worked on the cellar floor at a big winery in Marlborough Valley. After that, I met someone that was making wine in Spain who was visiting in New Zealand.

I told him how much I love Spain. I’ve travelled there and tasted wines. in between. I spent been four months travelling Europe with a German wine journalist. I had fallen in love with some of the Spanish wines. I told her how much I had loved Spain and she said her boss has a new project on the go and they need a bit of a flying winemaker. Would I be interested?

The end of 2004, I jetted off to Spain. It was a six-month contract and I had a great time. I met an Australian winemaker and got on exceptionally well [with him]. He has a number of small, high-end projects around the world. California, Spain and Australia. I went and worked with him in Australia, at a winery called Rockford. Basically, off and on,  I’ve worked for him – while I was abroad (other than for two years in California) –  for most of the time that I was out of South Africa, which was up until 2012.

On working at Darling Cellars:

Why I come back to Darling was, I think it’s an underrated. It is an arm of the Swartland. People had forgotten that there was this corner of the Swartland called Darling. When I lived abroad, one of my greatest frustrations was, I’d come home to my old colleagues and realise how good our wines were getting. They were getting a lot of critical acclaim. We need to start doing it on scale. Joe Public doesn’t get to these really small, high-end producers worldwide. If you think of the top burgundies in the top Californian wines, very few people get to experience the very top quality. The band below it, is what really establishes the image and the brand of a wine. I wanted to work at a place that had enough scale to be able to produce great wines at not micro volumes.

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