CellarVie Wines meets…Nederburg cellarmaster Razvan Macici

Razvan Macici has been the Nederburg cellarmaster since 2001 and he is not only a bundle of affable energy and a pleasure to interview, but he is also the man responsible for restoring the prize-winning traditions of one of South Africa’s premier wine brands. CellarVie Wines were fortunate enough to spend the morning in the company of the incredibly infectious star of Master Chef South Africa, during which the Romanian born winemaker discussed the Nederburg philosophy, his attitude towards biodynamic viticulture and sustainable winemaking, his love of Super XV outfit The Stormers, and how he very nearly drowned in wine…
Briefly describe yourself and your attitude to winemaking…
I’m an enthusiastic and creative person. Wine is the only thing I know.

Describe your approach to winemaking…
My whole family was in wine, so I was always involved. This is what I know and what I grew up with. I love the creativity which winemaking offers me and that close connection to the terroir, to the grape itself. To see it becoming the beautiful wine that eventually ends up in the bottle. I find the creativity in winemaking fascinating and I’m quite an enthusiastic person myself, very open. I think you need to be like this when making wine because you interact with a lot of people. Wine is about enjoyment at the end of the day and that is why we make wine. It should be enjoyed, with food, with friends, whenever.

Describe the Nederburg philosophy to winemaking…
Nederburg is a place with a lot of history and a lot of tradition and a long, long heritage. It started in 1791 and so when I arrived and became cellarmaster, you don’t just go in and change the philosophy of a place like this. You mould yourself to it and I have to say it wasn’t difficult for me – because together with the tradition and the history, Nederburg is also all about innovation and interesting wines. Nederburg is a huge brand but we have massive respect for the consumer. Always, always, always respect the consumer. In the back of our minds we are not making the wine for ourselves but for the consumer.
How did you get involved in the winemaking world? You grew up in the vineyards of Dealu Mare, about 70 km from Bucharest, how did this influence your approach to winemaking?
Both my parents were in wine. My dad was a winemaker and my mother a viticulturist. My grandparents made wine and had wine farms but obviously they lost these after the Second World War. I grew up in the vineyards; I grew up around wine, surrounded by vineyards all the time. This is what I always wanted to do – my greatest pleasure was being with my parents during the harvest. Being with them in the winery – it was always wine in our house. I probably shouldn’t say but I don’t remember when I had my first glass of wine…it might have been at my first communion! It was never a question of what I wanted to do; it was always wine, wine, and wine.
I almost drowned in wine. It was 1974 and there was a massive earthquake in Romania. The wine tanks in the winery where my father was a winemaker were made out of fibreglass. There were a lot of fibreglass tanks in those days and one of them collapsed and created a domino effect. It created a river of wine; we are talking millions and millions of litres of wine. I was six years old and the wine just flew out. I was shoulder deep in wine! It was an expensive bath and a proper baptism!

What was the most important lesson your parents passed on to you?
My parents were not just winemakers they were also researchers, they worked in the research field of viticulture and oenology. They taught me that there are no shortcuts and that attention to detail is very, very important. I always remember my dad; he was a very precise man. He would not believe you if you had completed a task, he wanted scientific proof! He was very inquisitive; he wanted to know why something is happening.
I think I picked up a lot of this attention to detail. I’m meticulous about the process and I don’t believe in taking any shortcuts from the vineyard to the bottle. In the cellar, you must be very careful, respect the surroundings and ensure you know what you are doing. And in a simpler essence, the whole love of this profession is from my parents.

How do you maintain the Nederburg winemaking philosophy across your broad range of wines? Is it difficult to preserve Nederburg’s identity when creating wines for commercial and boutique purposes?
Although we maintain a core belief that good wine is made in the vineyard, together with innovation across the range and of course respect for the consumer, you do have to wear a completely different hat when you make different levels of Nederburg wines. You don’t apply the same philosophy at the entry level as you would when applying to the top, top level. The core values are there, the attention to detail is there, but you apply different techniques.
Macici has been Nederburg cellarmaster for 12-years 
At entry level you are looking for ample fruit and drinkability as you know that the wine is going to be drunk immediately. When you look at wines we are going to make for the Nederburg Auction you know they are probably going to be drunk ten years after the vintage, so you make wines that have to age beautifully in the bottle. They need to have long ageing potential and there is therefore a completely different way of working with the tannins and fruit.
There is a different level of information you give to the consumer. When you go and make one of those very small volume wines, the top wines, then you really have to give the consumer the whole detail of the soil, the terroir, the temperatures, the grape structure, how old are the vines; they want to know what type of wood and for how long it’s been exposed to the wood. I mean you really have to go into this type of detail. You start discussing the secondary and further favours – the tabac and cigar box flavours.
With entry level you know they just want a good glass of wine that they enjoy – when I make wines for the entry levels – things like classic, elegant, and austere are not terms which I want to hear. I want to hear sweet, juicy, soft, drinkability.

During your career at Nederburg have you had many dealings with the legendary Günter Brözel? Did he pass on any pearls of wisdom?
I’m proud and privileged to say that Günter Brözel is a personal friend, a mentor and together with my father, I consider him as someone hugely important in my career. He visits Nederburg very often. He’s nearing 80 now but he visits us about every second week. He comes with friends and visits every now and then. In a very delicate way, Gunter is making his presence warmly felt at Nederburg. He is very close to us. It’s always good to listen to the stories and to the history that he has to share. 

 Razvan Macici at work
South Africa is a new world country but with a long and rich winemaking history and in particular there appears to be a strong emphasis on terroir and where the roots come from. Is this important to you and Nederburg?
South Africa is the oldest of the new world wine producing countries. Wine was first made in the Cape in 1562, which is before the South Americas, California, Australia – there is a long winemaking tradition in South Africa. That’s why, in terms of the wine we are producing, I always say we are somewhere between the old and new world in terms of style and tradition – our wines have the up-front fruit of the new worlds but there is something a bit classic, a reminder of the European heritage in South African wine.
I’m pretty proud to be associated with the New World because I think its positive – the new world doesn’t have negative connotations. It means to me value for money, drinkability, modern winemaking and innovation. We are all that, but I never miss the opportunity to tell people about the heritage in South Africa – we have the best of both worlds.

In what ways do Nederburg promote sustainable wine growing in South Africa?
It’s not just Nederburg, I think it is the South African wine industry in general. I’m not sure if you are familiar with IPW – the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) and the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative (BWI). I think South Africa is doing a lot to respect and protect the environment. Nederburg are part of both the IPW and the Biodiversity Scheme and in all of our farms, and not only the ones we own but also on the farms we work with, we will not do business with them if they adhere to the IPW and the Biodiversity programme. By doing that, we are influencing the industry. By applying the principle that we don’t do business with people who don’t abide by the IPW, we are hopefully setting a positive example.

What are your thoughts on biodynamic viticulture?
It’s a beautiful concept - to work at one with nature, with the terroir and to be sustainable, I love it, it’s a great idea but I’m not convinced there is a huge market out there. For example, organic wines are very difficult to make, there are huge limitations in the vineyard – you are not allowed to spray with this, you are not allowed to spray with that – it’s not easy. It also has to make sense financially. If you are producing this wine then you need to have a market for them. I mean, people speak about organic bio, but when they go to the wine shelf very few people will pick organic wines. Everyone is very positive about the concept and it’s great to hear about it, but I know very few people who will just go and only buy bio and organic. I would never just purchase a bottle of wine solely on the basis that it was organic. I do like some of them, like the ones which are literally just fermented and bottled, because they are a very true reflection of that wine’s specific terroir, soil, region and ethos.

What are your main passions outside of wine?
My biggest passion is my kids – I have three little monkeys at home who are gorgeous and that certainly puts a strain on my love of travelling. I like to paint and if I wasn’t a winemaker I was going to try and be a painter – its better this way because I think I’m a better winemaker than a painter! I like to entertain family and friends together with my wife with good food and good wine in our house. I love to cook. I am a fanatic rugby supporter. I arrived in South Africa just before the 1995 Rugby World Cup and since then I have loved it. My boy and I rarely miss a game with our team The Stormers, who are Cape Town’s local team. They play at the most fantastic stadium, The Newlands, and we are there every weekend. 
Newlands Stadium - Home to Razvan's beloved Stormers 
What is your favourite meal?
My children are quite picky so with the kids it’s a bit more complicated. Myself and my wife are open and we discovered each other’s native dishes – she has become pretty good at cooking Romanian food and I have come accustomed to making South African.
The South Africans like to be outside and I think they have the best meat and do great bbqs. Otherwise, during the winter, we make a lot of Romanian dishes – stuffed tomatoes, stuffed peppers, moussaka – and my kids like Borscht – it’s like a sour soup. My wife got me seriously into fish and we do prepare a lot of fish at home. If you think of the map, South Africa is surrounded by ocean and so it has great fish. We cook a lot.

Where is your favourite place in your vineyard to sit down quietly with a glass of wine?
There is one place during the harvesting season that I use a lot. It’s in front of the Manor House, surrounded by vineyards and sitting there, in front of this gorgeous historical house, in the shade of the plain trees and on the grass overlooking the mountains – that is fantastic. I definitely have my spot!
Briefly describe a day in the life of Razvan Macici…
Let’s take a day in the harvest season when I will wake up early, that is for sure. I first go to the vineyard because nothing can be harvested without the full analysis of the grape and me actually physically going there. I go there and see the ripening; it’s not enough to see it on paper as I need to taste the grapes, look at the pips and decide whether it is ready. So I spend a couple of hours in the vineyards, preferably in the morning.
I get to the cellar by 10am to see the white winemaker and all the fermenting wines and so on, and we go and taste them. Together we discuss what we are going to do with them. After I have finished with the white winemaker I go and see the red winemaker at about 12 and we go through the same process, assessing each one and determining how to treat them.
After that I basically work in the cellar and get involved in the process, helping where it is needed but we have a great team. The evening will end with our viticulturists and the winemakers where we will plan the next day’s harvest. That all happens without mentioning the other things that might happen during the day; visitors, wine tasting, meetings…the family doesn’t see much of me!

Nederburg’s core range remains faithful to the time-honoured methods that celebrate the integrity of the grape. Each step of the winemaking journey has been carefully considered to highlight true varietal character. The pedigree of their wines makes them a worthy choice for any occasion. To find out more about Nederburg go to www.nederburg.com

Razvan Macici on Nederburg Winemakers Reserve Noble Late Harvest 2008: "Our traditions are founded on this wine; this is what we do best. This is what Nederburg are known for the world over." 
To view our wines from South Africa, click here.  

Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 


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