Michael Weder – Namibian winemaker and spirits distiller

« The wine “industry” in Namibia is in its infant stage »

Michael Weder @ Kristall Kellerei

Michael Weder @ Kristall Kellerei

: What is your background ? Any link with wine ?
MICHAEL WEDER : My background is in labour law and not in wine making. I was for years a member of a wine club, as I enjoy drinking wine, and I attended two short wine making courses for “garagist” at the University Of Stellenbosch (South Africa).

WE : How did you get this crazy idea to make wine in Namibia ?
MW : We bought the Kristall Kellerei in March 2008 as Katrin (my wife) and I had decided to own a business where we can work together. We also decided that this business had to be in Omaruru, but why – this I cannot tell you. It was a great challenge for both of us and we enjoyed it since the beginning.

WE : What characterise the Kristall Kellerei winery ?
MW : Altitude is 1220m above to see level which give to the Estate some freshness during the night. Soils are sandy with a bit of clay, sot hey are not too fertile which is good as the vines have too fight in order to find nutrients. We have about 2,8 hectares currently under production (but will be increased to 6ha during the next two years). Colombard is the main white grape planted (with a smattering of Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc) and Tinta Barocca for reds (with a bite of Ruby Cabernet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinotage). Weather is a challenge in the Omaruru region : mostly hot and dry, with summer rainfall of about 280mm. So we have to be carreful with rote when harvesting.

WE : Some details on your cuvées ?
MW : Our two wines are blends and dry (but not bone dry). We use stainless steel tanks and pure (French) yeast for fermentation.
Rüppel’s Parrot Colombard, our white, is a blend of Colombard (95%), plus a touch of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin. The red one, Paradise Flycatcher, is a blend of Tintat Baroca (30%), Shiraz (25%), Ruby Cabernet (25%), Malbec (15%) and Pinotage (5%).

WE : What is your market strategy in terms of sales and marketing ?
MW : Currently we produce too little wine to think of exports (around 4,500 bottles a year). This will change within the next twelve years are we are thinking on a long term evolution. Currently, most of our sales take place across the counter, and some up-market lodges and hotels in Namibia also receive small quantities of our wines for their wine lists.

WE : You are also very well know for your spirits. Why making spirits ?
MW : We have obtained a good reputation for our spirits for which we have received international recognition in the last years. When we purchased Kristall Kellerei distillation was already part of the set-up and we decided to contunie, once again for the challenge and the fun it represented. It is easier to produce than wine are you are less dependent of weather and fruit/plantes deseases and it is a fantastic complement for the all Kristall Kellerei range.

WE : A few words one your spirits range ?
MW : We currently distil grapes (Nappa), prickly pears (Matisa), corky monkey-orange (Lumela) and pommegranate (Granate).

Michael Weder 1
WE : How do you see the Nabian wine industry nowadays ?
MW : The wine “industry” in Namibia is in its infant stage and it is my hope that this will grow. The first wines were made by catholic brothers in the vicinity of Windhoek – about 1894 – but this was discontinued during 1978 when the last cellar master passed away. The second attempt at wine making and distilling is here at Kristall Kellerei when the first vines (Colombard) were planted in 1990 by Helmuth Kluge, the previous owner. There are two other vineyards, both of whom are also managed by amateur winemakers. On the one hand this is a severe handicap as necessary knowledge and skills are lacking; on the other hand, this leaves a lot of room for innovation.

WE : What are your plans for the future at the winery ?
MW : We are expanding the acreage with Colombard being the main variety, although we are also toying with the idea to plant not so well known varieties… Surprise !

Wine Explorers’cheers,

For more information : www.kristallkellerei.com

When Namibian (desert) rhymes with Wine

Our Namibian adventure started in Upington, in the Orange River, on the border between South Africa and Namibia. Once we crossed the border, a 2600-km road trip commenced!

South of Namibia - 40° degrees outside

South of Namibia – 40° degrees outside

Namibia is like a series of postcards. An opencast patchwork. From the arid parts of the South, to the dunes of the West – the oldest dunes in the world, dating back over 3 million years, through the mountains of the North and the green meadows of the East, every landscape rivals of beauty and lets you dream. The country has 2.11 million people for 825 418 km2* (30 times less inhabitants than in France for an area 20% larger)… and the icing on the cake : 4 wineries !

It is difficult to produce wine when the rainy season is in summer (mainly from January to February, with harvesting time approaching) and an average temperature of 40°c…but far from impossible. Proof.

Step 1 : Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate
Welcome to the middle of the Namibian desert. At 1200m above sea level and 80km from the mythical dunes of Sossusvlei, Neuras winery represents a little less than 2 hectares of vines for an annual production of 3,000 bottles. Neuras is part of the Naankuse foundation, which helps in the preservation and rehabilitation of wild animals like leopards and in which Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are involved. Their daughter, Shiloh Nouvel, was born in Swakopmund, Namibia. The vines were planted in 1997 and the first vintage was in 2001. Two cuvées : Neuras Shiraz (100% Shiraz) and Namib Red (a blend 80% Shiraz-20% Merlot) . Pleasant surprise for both red wines aged for nine months in barrels with an 13.5% alcohol. The palate is light but the fruit is present, giving freshness to the wines and it offers an immediate pleasure. Wines to pair on the spot with a piece of juicy Namibian beef, cooked on the coals.
More information : http://www.naankuse.com/neuras-estate-of-naankuse

Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate

Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate

Step  2 : Kristall Kellerei Winery
This 4.5 hectares vineyard was created in 1990 by Helmuth Kluge, the pioneer of modern viticulture in Namibia, and ransom in March 2008 by Katrin and Michael Weder. We are in Omaruru, 200 km northwest of Windhoek, the capital. Here, at 1400 meters above see level, wine production and the distillation of brandy – produced from grapes but also from plants – co-exist in perfect harmony. Moreover Colombard, the dominant grape, is used for both productions. Their white, Rüppel ‘s Parrot, a light 100% Colombard, whith notes of citrus and pear, is a perfect refreshment. The red, Paradise Flycatcher, is a blend of Tinta Baroca (30%), Shiraz (25%), Ruby Cabernet (25%), Malbec (15%) and Pinotage (5%). Nose of prune which have the flavours of a Porto. An easy drinking wine.
The house specialty : MATISA Prickly-Pear, a brandy made ​​from cactus flowers of the field.
More information : www.kristallkellerei.com

Harvest @ Kristall Kellerei

Harvest @ Kristall Kellerei

3rd and last step: Otavi region, baboons territory
We are surrounded by mountains, at 1300 meters altitude. At nightfall freshness arises. In the distance we hear the baboons screaming, it is impressive. In front of us, 1.5 miles away, two wineries face each other.
Tonningii Wynkelder, created in 1990 and whose vines were planted in 1998, is Otavi’s oldest winery. It is also the farm of Dr. Boshoff, a touching and close to nature man. During the morning, Dr. Boshoff consults at his cabiner in Otavi. He is a local star in the region, all the African people know him. In the afternoon, he puts on his winemaker cap and run in his field, 10km away, to take care of his vineyard, his second passion, but also to take care of the chickens, pigs and cows . He even collected a baby eland a few years ago, which horns he cut so it doesn’t hurt his wife, because the two are inseparable. A doctor-farmer-winemaker in Namibia… I love it! The wine: 1 pure Shiraz coming from 1ha of vines. “Of course there is a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Merlot and Chardonnay here and there, but it’s just for fun and to experiment, I don’t bottle them”, he says with humour.

Dr. Boshoff & his deer

Dr. Boshoff & his deer

On the other side, at the end of a path invaded by grass, is the Montavi winery, held by Laurent Evrard & Stefan and Martha Schulz, a Franco-German tandem. During the week they work and live in the capital. On weekends, they take the car and drive the 360 km that separate them from the domain, just for their passion for wine. At the moment their Syrah, Mourvèdre, Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon are not marketed. The wines don’t even have a label! These two wine lovers have learned the job and are still playing. “Every year we learn a little bit more, we buy additional equipment. Step by step we are moving on, always taking pleasure !”, says Laurent. One day maybe they would market… We spent the weekend with them harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre. A great time. Wine buddies. And scoop for Wine Explorers : they will label and sale their 2013 vintage !

Namibia is not (yet) a great nation of wine. But the apprentice-winemakers we met have all demonstrated one thing: anybody making wine with his heart can make good wine !

Paysage désertique Namibie
One last stop in Windhoek to enjoy a beer at Joe’s Beerhouse, the fashionable and unavoidable spot of the capital. A good night’s sleep followed by a fantastic breakfast in the countryside in Voigtland Guesthouse, a few kilometers from Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport. And here we go again. Direction Zimbabwe !

Wine Explorers’cheers,

*source : wikipedia