JG Auret – chief winemaker

Keeping it natural above all.

Each bottle of wine from a premium production house is the manifestation of a myriad factors coming together in a harmonious whole – from both the unique environmental influences and the human practices from soil to bottle.

This perfect blending of nature’s bounty with state-of-the-art science and technology requires extraordinary insight and attention to detail by the creator. This is indeed the forte of Linton Park Wines’ chief winemaker JG Auret, who has been holding the cellar reins here for 11 years during remarkable growth and evolvement of this winery, situated close to the environment where he was born and bred.

JG, whose nickname is derived from the initials for Johannes Gerhardus in typical local fashion, had his schooling ‘down the road’ in the neighbouring town of Paarl, after which he graduated from Stellenbosch’s Elsenburg College in viticulture and oenology. He also attended a wine marketing programme at Adelaide University, Australia, and worked a harvest at Limerick Lane in the Russian River Valley, California. The latter specifically at a small outfit to gain hands-on experience in all aspects of cellar work.

He joined Paarl’s award-winning Boland Cellar as assistant red wine-maker in 2002 before moving on to Linton Park on the outskirts of Wellington as winemaker in 2007 – marking the start of an impressive upwards spiral in the winery’s quality development and competition footprint.

This involved an extensive vineyard uprooting and replanting programme in collaboration with seasoned estate manager Rudolf Jansen van Vuuren – building a portfolio of distinctive wines that express the farm’s remarkable variety of soils and microclimates at heights varying from 200 – 510 metres above sea level.  At the same time, they took meticulous care of the natural environment which features large tracks of unique Cape renosterveld vegetation, as well as clearing the gumtree forests on the picturesque Groenberg Mountain slopes.

This is where he finds himself today, handling the crop from no less than seven white grape cultivars and 13 red. These are produced from 72 hectares of vineyard on the extremely diverse terrain of the 240 hectares property, which ends up being bottled for five own brand ranges and some 30 third-party clients’ ranges over the past 11 years. “All with their own cultivar mixes and styles,” JG adds in his calm, modest manner.

“We plan to expand to 100 hectares and thereby grow production from 650 to 1 000 tons or one million bottles within the next five years.”

“Yes, this is a huge challenge, but I suppose my own productive capacity has grown with that of the business. And one is inspired by the market and competition successes.” Hereby he refers to, among others, the Linton Park Estate Chardonnay 2016 clinching a coveted double gold medal at the Michelangelo International Wine Awards 2017 and the maiden Linton Park Brut MCC Non-Vintage recently named as Best MCC overall at the Novare SA Terroir Wine Awards 2018.

Made by the traditional French method, the latter wine comprises a significant portion of Chardonnay, with Pinot Noir, one of the numerous niche cultivars now grown here in newer blocks.

JG believes that Linton Park’s benchmark cultivars for the future are Chardonnay and Cabernet. “When I arrived here first, the focus was on Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but we’ve found that just about all cultivars are doing extremely well thanks to the diversity of the area. In fact, we are able to produce top Rhône varietal grapes on the north-facing slopes and premium Bordeaux types facing south.”

“We started five years ago with one hectare blocks of carefully selected cultivars like Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Carignan and Petit Verdot for future red blends to complement the current single variety-driven portfolio. Established newer cultivars are also Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tempranillo, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. This while getting top results from Shiraz and Pinotage and re-establishing the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon vines – the latter being the most important and selling out the fastest.

“We’ve even experimented a lot with various vinification methods and styles and can’t keep up with the demand for the mocha-style Café Cab in addition to the dark red, berry-flavoured main-line Cabs.”

Says the unpretentious and ‘natural’ but assertive winemaker, “I strive to bring forward the natural flavours as far as possible, with minimum intervention. All the wines are vegan-friendly, containing no gelatine, egg white or animal components – staying away from unnecessary fining agents. I want to get it right from the onset and not fix anything later. At the same time, we do considerable experimentation with new yeasts and our barrel-regime is intensive.”

Bearing testimony to JG’s advanced and innovative winemaking techniques is the soon to be released Wild Yeast Chardonnay 2017, the result of exhaustive selection and whole-bunch picking in the vineyard, for fermentation with wild yeast in 300 litre French oak before extended lees contact in the barrel. He expects this to further enhance the typical Linton Park Chardonnay’s citrusy, and tropical flavours together with a light buttery mouthfeel.

All this is handled in the modern cellar with an assistant-winemaker and three cellar workers, but no wonder he sees the need to double this personnel in the foreseeable future to handle the growth in all processes from harvesting to bottling.

Certainly, having started work for pocket money in the local wine cellar in Paarl, even carrying boxes, from Grade 10 and continuing this during college study breaks, JG does not refrain from getting his hands dirty and is a respected team member and energetic, committed all-rounder.

Not surprisingly, he does not find time for sport, except some fly-fishing, while playing acoustic, electric and bass guitars and even percussion in small local bands and for community support projects. The product of a Paarl family home, with both parents as school teachers, JG is a devout family man with a wife and two small children.

(by Cassie du Plessis)