On the face of it, the appointment of a new CEO sounds like good news for shareholders, but it also raises the question of how the change in leadership will affect the company’s strategy and operations over the next two years. In recent years, the company has generally been seen as a conservative player in the industry, and this is reflected in its share price, which has generally lagged behind those of its peers on the JSE. (However, in a more recent interview, Viljoen has hinted that Nederburg might be ready to take on the giants of the industry.)
The South African wine industry has been in turmoil for the past few years, with the banks supposedly still reeling from the global crisis, and the Reserve Bank’s strict lending policies further squeezing the industry’s liquidity. This year, the industry has had to deal with the bush fires that ravaged the western Cape, and then, the rains that dampened the 2011 harvest, as well as the continuing global economic uncertainty. So, against this turbulent backdrop, we chatted with Nederburg CEO, Peter Vrieswijk, about how the world’s oldest wine co-operative is faring, and the exciting changes that are in store for the brand in the future.
4. May – Samuel Viljoen (40) becomes the new cellar master of Nederburg. He has been part of the winery’s award-winning team since 2007, first as an assistant and since 2014 as a full-time winemaker for Nederburg’s red wines. He succeeded Liesel Gerber, who left the company to pursue other interests.
In his new role, Viljoen oversees the production of Paarl Cellar’s range of classified wines, which are distributed in more than 80 countries worldwide.
Before coming to Nederburg fourteen years ago, the Stellenbosch University graduate worked in viticulture and oenology in small and large wineries. These include the highly regarded American winery Domaine Serene in the Willamette Valley, which calls itself Château Lafite Oregon, and the large-scale Goudini Winery in Rawsonville, which targets large markets.
When Viljoen visited the United States in 2003, he was one of the few South African winemakers to have the opportunity at the time to work in Oregon, which is now considered the source of some of the best wines in the United States. Domaine Serene is ranked among the best wines in the world by the Wine Spectator and has also received high ratings from the Wine Advocate.
My obsession with detail probably originated when I lived in Oregon, where every small wine barrel was considered something very precious, as was every large barrel, Viljoen says. Big or small, everything was considered important, and that importance never left me.
His previous experience in South Africa includes work for Klein Constantia, Fairview and Longridge.
Nederburg CEO Niel Groenewald believes Viljoen’s talent is essential to the winery’s success. Samuel’s skills as a winemaker are widely recognized and are enhanced by his exceptional discipline, strong analytical and intuitive skills, and ability to focus on both the details and the big picture. She is therefore equally at home in creating exclusive wines, special micro editions and mass-produced wines. As a leader and team member, he is a great asset to our recently expanded and enlarged winery.
Mr. Viljoen, from Bredasdorf, gives his all to his career as a winegrower and has a very friendly relationship with the Nederburg team. We’re like a group of brothers who often spend more time together than with their families, he says. But he never loses his sense of balance, which he believes is essential for a good life.
His philosophy? Don’t take life too seriously or you won’t get out alive. To reach your destination, be yourself and let your employees be part of the journey, not the wheel.
Above all, he enjoys contributing to the most meaningful moments in other people’s lives. I am delighted when wine lovers tell me about a Netherburg wine they have poured at an engagement, birthday, party for old or new friends, new job or other event. I feel proud and humbled at the same time.
He also enjoys working in the wine industry, now as a cellar master. You have to be very analytical, but also learn to trust your intuition and taste buds. You need the structure, but also the flexibility to work with 23 different races at once. You must be able to produce a small number of special collectible wines and switch on the same day to producing popular wines for the world markets, and you must be comfortable producing classic but original and very different wines.