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Meet Andrea Freeborough, Distell's New Head Winemaker

Andrea Freeborough was recently appointed head winemaker at Distell. She shares some of her plans with us – and reveals a few things about herself too.

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Andrea Freeborough | House and Leisure

Born in Zimbabwe, Andrea Freeborough has known since she was a child that she wanted to make wine. Having just realised her dream in grand style – she was recently apppointed the new head winemaker at Distell – she chatted to us about her plans in her new position, her current favourite cultivar and the most memorable wine she's ever tasted.

5 Minutes with Winemaker Andrea Freeborough

Did you always want to be a winemaker?  

I was born in Zimbabwe but, as a little girl, our family moved to East London, where I went to school. I have a very clear recollection of paging through a magazine as a teenager and seeing pictures of Cape vineyards. I could imagine myself in a vineyard and I just knew I wanted to be involved in some way with wine. I never had the slightest doubt and my parents took me to Stellenbosch on holiday while I was still at school to help me make sure this was what I really wanted. It absolutely was.

I studied viticulture and oenology at Stellenbosch University. On graduating, I thought I wanted to work in the vineyards, so the next obvious step was to complete an honours degree in viticulture. But after spending a harvesting season in the cellars, I realised I wanted to be a winemaker. An honours degree in oenology followed. And I've never regretted that decision.

You are going to be overseeing a large portfolio of wines as Distell's head winemaker. What are you most excited about, and what would your biggest challenges be in this new role? 

Apart from the incredible growth and development opportunity presented by my new role, I am thoroughly excited about the scope, and the chance to be involved in defining Distell’s strategy for viticulture and winemaking, as well as to actively participate in a range of innovation and cost-saving plans. There are already some incredible projects underway, which my team and I will drive to completion. But we’ll also be implementing a number of new initiatives.

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If you were a wine, what would it be?

Probably Chenin Blanc. In my new position as Distell’s head winemaker, I have to simultaneously tend to a multitude of tasks. I put this juggling act down to the ability to be flexible and adaptable – just like Chenin Blanc! This cultivar is known for its outstanding ability to take on many forms. One can make an array of extraordinary Chenin Blancs, from dry, off-dry, special late harvest and noble late harvest, to sparkling wines.  

What's the most memorable wine you've ever tasted? 

The 1974 vintage of Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon, made by winemaking icon Günter Brözel. He was cellarmaster at Nederburg for 33 years, from 1956 to 1989. I’ve been fortunate to taste this wine on several occasions over the years (some of these with Günter himself). Most recently, at a tasting a few months ago, the wine was still amazing. But that said, I might be a little prejudiced since 1974 is my birth year!

What's your current favourite cultivar, and why? 

I don’t have any definite favourites at present, but I certainly have a newfound respect for Chenin Blanc after attending the recent Chenin Blanc International Congress in Angers, France. Being South Africa’s most widely planted wine grape variety and having been over-cropped for many years for distillation purposes, Chenin Blanc is starting to fully come into its own. South African wineries are producing some truly remarkable Chenin Blancs in a variety of styles that can most definitely compete with the best the French wine industry has to offer.

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Which part of the world should every serious wine lover visit?

France is one of my favourite wine-tourism destinations. The French Huguenots had a huge influence on the South African wine industry in its infancy, so there is a lovely link between the two countries. However, I am a great supporter of our very own Cape Winelands and encourage all wine lovers to come here at least once. We have so much in our favour in South Africa, from physical beauty to critically acclaimed wines and world-class gastronomy. We are globally known for our friendly hospitality. I believe these are huge drawcards.  

What are your current favourite restaurants?

We tend to eat out as a family quite often. When we are looking for something quite relaxed, we enjoy visiting Reuben’s & Co Café at The Yard in Val de Vie or Back's in Paarl.

Noop, also in Paarl, is my daughter’s current favourite restaurant, while my son thoroughly enjoys the 1kg rack of ribs at Hussar Grill.

The Red Table at Nederburg is also a special spot for our family and friends, as we have celebrated several birthdays and other special occasions here over the years.

What would your last meal – and last drink – be?

Warm bread, straight from the oven, with thick butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, followed by a well-prepared chicken curry (with poppadoms and all the delicious accompaniments), served with a glass of Nederburg’s Heritage Heroes The Anchorman Chenin Blanc. 

Andrea Freeborough | House and Leisure

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