Dustin Osborne of Mont Rochelle grew up on a farm in the Free State, so agriculture and the outdoors are close to who he is. Let’s take an inside look of Dustin’s journey of becoming a wine maker to Sir Richard Branson’s Franschhoek retreat – Mont Rochelle Vineyards.
Where did your wine journey begin?
“I was visiting friends in the Western Cape in 1998, and they took me to visit the Winelands, Nederburg specifically. I remember seeing the neat straight vineyard rows, and purchasing my first bottle of wine for my parents, a bottle of Nederburg Lyric. I thought I was the bee’s knees, taking the wine home and explaining it to my Mom and Dad. From there I decided to study viticulture more specifically (as it is more agriculture related). Skip to 2001 when we were assigned a row of grapes at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand. I was assigned a row of Gewurtztraminer for the 2002 vintage, so had to prune and manage the crop leading to 2002 harvest. We then had to vinify our grapes, and I was fascinated with the winemaking, so I altered my course to Major more in Oenolgy (winemaking) and minor in viticulture.”
When were you appointed winemaker at Mont Rochelle?
“I was originally appointed winemaker and viticulturist at Mont Rochelle in 2007, after working in vineyards and wineries across South Africa and abroad. In 2011, I actually left the estate for a short while and took up the position of General Manager and Winemaker at Aaldering Vineyards and Wines. I stayed there for four years, before re-joining the Mont Rochelle family in 2014, right at the time it became part of the Virgin Limited Edition collection.”
What is your vision for the wine?
“I would like our wines to portray a true sense of place, harnessing terroir and minimal intervention in the cellar. To allow true terroir expression we are actually currently in the middle of an exciting re-planting program of the vineyards. Along with GIS mapping and taking into account the variety of terroirs on the property, a strategic and specific replanting program has been put in place to match the perfect cultivars, rootstocks and clones to these various terroirs. The aim is to give our vineyards the perfect opportunity to provide top quality terroir driven fruit. Phase one of the project was initiated in 2017 and the first vines will be planted in July 2018, so watch this space!”
Have you won any awards for your wines?
“At the Monde Selection International Wine Contest 2009 in Brussels, we scored Gold for both our Mont Rochelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 and Mont Rochelle Syrah 2004. Mont Rochelle was one of only three South African wine producers to be named among the Gold Award winners in that year, so it was a very proud moment!”
What is your favourite wine from Mont Rochelle & what food would you pair it with?
“Hands down the Miko Syrah 2009! It is a wine that is close to my heart as I can still remember thinking (in 2009) that this wine is going to be special whilst it was in barrel. It is a beautifully poised wine, elegant, refined and expressive, true to the nature of that year’s cooler vintage. I have had this wine on numerous occasions with various different dishes. One that definitely excited and tantalised the taste buds was a pairing with Chef Shane Louw of Miko’s Beef Fillet served with bone marrow and mustard crust, beef croquette, pea puree, Shiraz onions, HP gel and straw wine jus (No, I didn’t remember this dish in such detail, I had to go and ask chef, as it made such an impression on me!)”
Tell us a bit about your latest harvest?
“Our harvest started with a bang on the 12th February 2018, with the first Sauvignon Blanc coming into the cellar fashionably late by 2 weeks compared to previous years. As the season progressed, the ripening of fruit accelerated and we finished on par date wise for reds compared to other vintages. The fruit was lighter and more concentrated, with around 3–5% less juice extraction than previous vintages. The vineyard suffered around 5-10% hail damage in the February storms, resulting in earlier picking of Semillon and lighter and looser bunches on reds as damaged berries dried out and aborted. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we had a lighter and small berried harvest with more fruit concentration and complexity across the board. Both this year’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah have fantastic colour and good balance in tannin structure.
A wine to look out for from this year’s harvest is the Mont Rochelle Sauvignon Blanc 2018. There were three different components harvested, at different ripeness levels with different yeasts utilised. Early signs of the wines post-ferment and Sur Lie are very promising with intense grapefruit, guava and lychee aromatics and a fresh and vibrant acidity on the palate.”
Have you met Sir Richard Branson?
“I’ve met Sir Richard and his family a few times at Mont Rochelle; they try to visit whenever they can. Like most of our guests, he loves to soak up the mountain views and you’ll often find him on the tennis courts having a game against our General Manager, James.”
Thank you Dustin for your generous insight into winemaking at Mont Rochelle.
If you would like to taste Mont Rochelle wines, take a trip to their fabulous estate in Franschhoek.