Pieter Badenhorst, our white-wine maker, grew up in the scenic Boland town of Tulbagh, surrounded by majestic mountains and fertile valleys boasting pristine vineyards.
This is where his interest in wine was piqued - trying to fathom, from an early age, how it’s possible that a microscopic living yeast cell can turn grape juice into wine. It was this scientific occurrence, coupled with the chance to create something tangible, something a little magical and adored worldwide, that fascinated him to the point of pursuing a career in wine-making.
So, after matriculating in 1998, he enrolled for a four-year Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Stellenbosch, specialising in oenology and viticulture. Straight after graduating, he was appointed as Nederburg’s assistant white-wine maker, working under the guidance of cellar-master at the time, Razvan Macici, a gifted winemaker whom Pieter still admires to this day for his contagious passion for wine.
“It was also during this time that I had the pleasure of meeting and working with another immensely talented winemaker, Andrea Freeborough, who is now the head winemaker for Distell, Nederburg’s parent company,” he explains. “A true professional, she’s appointed me no less than thrice during my career. Her work ethic is unsurpassed, and she always gives thoughtful, intelligent, well-considered advice.”
In 2019, Pieter’s journey in wine-making came full circle when he returned to Nederburg to head up the white-wine team, after more than a decade as wine-maker for Fleur du Cap, another of Distell’s prestigious wine brands. In between, he managed to squeeze in some harvest seasons in Germany and France, equipping him with valuable experience and a chance to further hone his wine-making skill.
The 2021 harvest is his 21st. “My motto for this year’s harvest is ‘back to basics’,” he says, referring specifically to the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. “If 2020 has taught me one thing, it’s to live in the moment, so my short-term ambition for this year is really basic but very important in my view. I want to keep things really simple, especially in terms of the harvest. I know I’ll face many challenges together with my team, but it gives us the opportunity to delve deep and use our combined know-how to navigate our way through various complexities.”
When asked what he’s most proud of when it comes to the wines he’s had a hand in crafting, he doesn’t hesitate: “Winning some prestigious Veritas double gold medals and seeing the resulting elation on the faces of my wife, other family members and friends. I know that winning awards is not everything, but having your loved ones enjoy and share those great moments with you – that’s truly special.”
Pieter explains that his wife, Lisa, is his biggest fan. “She motivates me to be a better person on every level, every single day. She’s just amazing!
“My cellar team also inspires me and keeps me on my toes. I’m fortunate to work with and mentor a handful of very capable, energetic young wine-makers and cellar assistants with interesting fresh ideas and alternative approaches. We learn from each other and believe that this makes us stronger as a team.”
Pieter’s upbeat personality and fine sense of humour has served him well over the years, making him popular amongst his peers and cementing a future for himself in an industry loved by so many. He’s a true ‘people’s person’, who thoroughly enjoys spending quality time with his family and friends, and loves sport and music.
He lives in Paarl with his wife, two children and three dogs.