Born into a winemaking family, Bertho van der Westhuizen was destined for the cellar. He is currently the winemaker at the prestigious Alto Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. Alto has built a reputation as one of the most respected red wine producers in South Africa. Van der Westhuizen, only the fifth winemaker in Alto’s long history.
We chatted to Van der Westhuizen to find out about his experiences and passion for wine.
when and why did you decide to become a winemaker?
I was literally born in the cellar, Neethlingshof, where my father was the winemaker before joining Alto so it was a case of being born into winemaking.
if you were not a winemaker what would you be?
Maybe an engineer or something in logistics?
what is your favourite wine to make?
I really enjoyed making white in the past but red is king. Its part of an evolution that takes time and patience.
what it your favourite Alto wine?
Like asking who is my favourite child? I enjoy all 5 cultivars that we have on Alto, and being in Stellenbosch and Helderberg, I think Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the favourite. But I enjoy all of them, some are a bit more challenging!
what is the most memorable wine you’ve ever tasted?
Back when I was studying at the University of Stellenbosch we had a International wine tasting as part of a marketing module. We tasted a German Riesling from 1984. The wine smelled 100% like Appeltizer. Green apples in a glass. Was fantastic!
after all the hard work you do to make a wine – can you describe how you feel when you taste it for the first time?
We take all the time to see how the wines evolve. One can’t sit back and wait for everything to happen and then bottle. You have to follow the maturation process carefully to grow with every wine.
you mentioned that 2014 was the most challenging time for winemaking, why is this and how did you overcome it?
It was the biggest harvest ever and we had a lot of rain during the harvest. It was a year where you had to trust your instincts and apply all the knowledge that you gained in the previous years!
what has been the most rewarding moment in your career?
I would like to think that there is one moment that stands out, but its not the case. My short career has had many highlights and there is still a lot to achieve in the years coming. The privilege of being in charge of Alto is definitely a very rewarding phase.
what do you want people to get out of your wine when they drink it?