« I love wine but it must be good »
Former mannequin model and passionate about karate, nothing pre-destined Christophe Durand to viticulture. However, meeting with a self-educated wine lover.
WINE EXPLORERS : Before becoming a winemaker for Wines d’Orrance, your vineyard, it seems that you’ve had a thousand lives. What brought you to South Africa ?
CHRISTOPHE DURAND : I discovered this beautiful country in 1989 when I was here for six months modelling and I have always vowed to return one day. It was only a few years later, after my separation from my first wife, South African herself, that I decided to drop everything to be with my first daughter , Ameena .
Arriving from my native Normandy with my clogs to start from scratch wasn’t easy. So I started by picking up small food jobs from server to bodyguard. Life is made of beautiful encounters and opportunities that must be seized. My meeting in Cape Town with Claude Gillet, owner of a Burgundian cooperage, was my first turning point in wine and an upheaval in my life. Believing in me, he not only chose me as his South African agent but above all, he gave me his passion for wine and his love for Burgundy. My passion and my curiosity for the cooperage industry were such that my company was an immediate success. In just three years I already had 10 % of the market.
WE : What lead you to make your own wine ?
CD : During these first three years in contact with South African producers, I had the chance to make wine experimentations for fun. I found my style and I took my chance in 2000, making my first wine under the name Cuvée Ameena, the name of my first daughter who is now 20 years old. I didn’t grow up with winemakers or wine people in general, so I had to learn fast, very fast and from scratch. I discovered a passion that would never leave me. I read a lot, tasted a lot to train my palate and always listened to any advice, good and less good.
WE : What is your philosophy regarding the wine you produce and wines you like to drink ?
CD : Unearth beautiful terroirs and let the nature take its course, that’s my philosophy. Working in the vineyard, harvesting the finest grapes possible, and once in the cellar, do as little as possible, simply by monitoring the harvest, like taking care of a child taking its first steps.
I love fruity wines, easy to drink, which reflect their terroir, the sexy wines of Burgundy, the great ladies of Bordeaux, the finest of Rhone Valley, the precision of Alsace, the minerality of Sancerre. I love wine but it must be good.
WE : Can you give us details on your 3 wines ?
CD : The Cuvée Ameena is a pure Syrah. Half the vines are bushvines in the Swartland region, more specifically in Perdeberg, a terroir providing good structure and a black fruit character to the wine. The other half is coming from the Elgin region, closer to the sea and offering elegance, spices (white pepper) that I always look for in the Syrah. Both plots, once harvested, will undergo their fermentations separately and then be blended to age in French oak for 18 months.
The 2nd wine is named Cuvée Anais, name of my second 9 year old daughter, is a 100 % Chardonnay coming from two beautiful vineyards, one in Elgin, the other one in Franschhoek, regions which bring elegance and minerality to the whites.
Kama, the 3rd wine, is a Chenin Blanc, in honor of the Indian origines of my wife. Kama, in Sanskrit language “the pleasure of sens”, comes from a bush trailed single vineyard, allowing the Chenin Blanc to give the best of itself. This wine is my favourite and I like to take care of it because Chenin Blanc is more fragile and sensitive to oxidation .
WE : Was your meeting with Claude Gilois, founder of “Vins du Monde“ and “Chasseur de Crus“ the turning point of your wine life ?
CD : The meeting with Claude Gilois, who I like to call my ” Spirits father “, was the begining of my wine life. He first discovered me through my wines. Then in 2003 he started importing my products in France, and step by step, thanks to word of mouth, we now export to 14 countries. He guided me, exposed me to the world of wine, meeting a lot of great personalities, which was a unique opportunity for me, not coming from a vineyard setting. It helped me to affirm my style. I owe him a lot.
WE : Your greatest emotion on a South African wine ? On a world wine in particular ?
CD : My first great emotion was for a South African Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 from Neil Ellis, a nice and balanced wine with grapes from Stellenbosch. Ornellaia 1992 or a Charmes Chambertin 1949 from Laporte and more recently a Château Clinet 2007. I constantly discover with excitiment the world of wine…
WE : Can you tell us more about your new cellar in the center of Cape Town ?
CD : We were, my wife and I looking for a place in the center of Cape Town for four years, to be able to produce and raise our wines, but also to offer tastings and sales of our products on site. Something that wasn’t always evident in the past because I rented a place from another producer.
We luckily found a 300 years old place being part of Heritage Square building, officially dated from1771, right in the center of the city. This is an incredible opportunity to have got hold of this 320 square meters place full of great history, with a natural freshness and constant temperature of 20 degrees (60cm thick walls), perfect for wine.
WE : Any project in the future ?
CD : As we say in English, “the sky is the limit“… This year I will have some Roussanne, an exciting Rhone varietal, and next year I start to produce Pinot Noir.
More information about Vins d’Orrance : www.vinsdorrance.co.za