During his tenure, the team continued the transition to premium status
Experienced winemaker and head of the renowned Stellenbosch Hills, PG Slabbert, celebrates his 25th harvest at the winery this year. During this time, he has seen not only the transformation of the acclaimed enterprise, but also shared its journey through some of the industry’s most tumultuous times.
Since the mid-1990s historic peaks and troughs include South Africa’s return to the international arena, seasons of extreme drought, repeated power grid loadshedding, rollercoaster markets of foreign trade, and most recently, a devastating pandemic. Nonetheless, Stellenbosch Hills weathered the storms, grew its business and most notably, evolved into a leading producer of premium wine.
PG would be first to point out the contributions of the team; the collaborative spirit in the organisation’s DNA; and, the winery’s history pre-dating his arrival. For one, it was established when local farmers banded together to carve their own path after WW2. These were the seeds of the Vlottenburg Cellar that became Stellenbosch Hills in 2003.
A year later, PG was appointed cellarmaster of the establishment. A graduate of Stellenbosch University, he’d been the Stellenbosch viticulture consultant to KWV, with Johan Pienaar, before joining what was then, Vlottenburg Cellar. He was hired in 1997 as assistant winemaker to Kowie du Toit, a legend of the industry in his own right. Following in Kowie’s footsteps, he became chief winemaker in 1999.
“It doesn’t feel as if 25 years have passed,” he says. “I still learn every day and enjoy my work.”
Reflecting on the time, PG points out the biggest changes during his tenure. “Greater focus was placed on the Stellenbosch Hills brand while also shifting from bulk wine production to bottled wines. We observed positive growth.
“Investments were made in new wine technology and ageing. We built a maturation cellar, where we began with 50 barrels and now have over 800.
“Our wine style migrated towards more serious wines able to mature well while still catering for a general, lifestyle consumers through, for example, our Polkadraai range.”
He lists among his proudest moments at Stellenbosch Hills:
• 1997 vintage wine, his first at the winery that went on to achieve an ABSA TOP 10 the following year and again in 2001; and,
• The Sauvignon Blanc 2007 winning Grand d’Or at the Michelangelo International Wine Awards as best of cultivar and best overall white wine.
“There were many highlights over the years,” he says. “These include pride in the achievements of my winemakers too.”
It follows that the joy of his work has been “the people”.
“We’re a small team and it feels like family,” says PG. “The good relationships mean I can live out my style of management. We also have a small group of producers, which allows the work to flow quickly and efficiently.”
The winery’s grapes are sourced from various vineyards owned and maintained by 16 producers from farms surrounding the town of Stellenbosch.
The best advice he has received, came from former winery chairman Jannie Joubert. “’Be reasonable and fair in everything you do,’ he once told me.”
At the same time, with the hindsight of experience, he says he’d advise his younger self that nothing happens without a reason. “Hard work brings reward.”
People who know PG often describe him as genial and kind-hearted, characteristics he believes emerge from a love of challenge. “I like solving problems and helping people. When something’s not right, I jump in without waiting for someone else to do the work. That is the source of my energy; I live in the moment.”
One of these challenges, according to PG, is how the quality of Stellenbosch Hills wine is underestimated “because we’re a large producer winery”.
“In fact, this is precisely the reason we’re able to allocate the best grapes to bottle.”
Still, the challenges remain, he admits. Fortunately, the people of the industry are “a great bunch”.
“I’ve not had one day of regret about joining this industry,” he says. “Cheers to many more years!”
For more information about Stellenbosch Hills, visit http://www.stellenbosch-hills.co.za; call 021 881 3828/9; or, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Stellenbosch Hills is also on Twitter as @stbhills, and Facebook.
Stellenbosch Hills is located at the intersection of the R310 and Vlottenburg Road, just outside Stellenbosch.
More about PG
PG was born and raised in Upington. He graduated in 1995 with a BSc Agric (Viticulture and Oenology).
When not at work, he enjoys fly fishing, golf and cooking.
PG is married Mari Slabbert. They have two children, Pieter (20), a student of actuarial science at Stellenbosch University, and Karli (15).
Categories: Stellenbosch Hills Wines