Article originally appeared on Wine.co.za on the 16 October 2017
Charla Haasbroek, assistant winemaker at Sijnn Wines in the Malgas ward, has a knack for being extremely stylish. Her keen eye for covetable, yet slightly offbeat dressing extends to the wines she crafts, turning oenology into a true art.
Long before I met Charla, the Saignee stole my heart. At a recent wine event, I had the pleasure of meeting her and Charla’s genial spirit and “girl’s girl” sensibility is as charming as the wines. She joined David Trafford and the Sijnn team in December 2014 as Assistant Winemaker and is still going strong three years later.
Charla qualified with BSc Viticulture and Oenology in 2012 at the University of Stellenbosch and has worked harvests at Kanonkop and Tokara before working a harvest at Margerum in California. With a true entrepreneurial spirit, she recently started her own brand of wine called ‘Charla Haasbroek Wines’ and if her work at Sijnn is anything to go by, the wines are bound to be good. When not charming grapes into wine, Charla lives - to quote her directly - in the middle of nowhere with her husband who supports her weird and wonderful ideas. Full of life and the smarts, she is a definite one to watch. We talked motivation and mistakes.
What vintage are you?
A 90's baby.
If you could bottle yourself, what would the tasting note be?
Alcohol is addictive - drink with caution! A lighter red, medium body, earthy tones on the nose and quirky red fruits on the palate.
What sparked your love for food and the drink?
Aliens come down from space and you must explain to them in one bottle of wine what it is that you do – what do you make?
Imagine aliens coming down! Well, we will probably not be talking much so I guess I’ll have to keep it simple and give them a Chenin blanc and tell E.T. to phone home and translate.
What is still on your wine bucket list?
Rioja, Croatia, Hungary, Rhone, Mendoza, Piedmont.
Tell us about your lucky break?
I was at the right place, at the right time. Sijnn needed an assistant and I was working in California at the time and planning on going to Chile in December. One evening I could not sleep and went on wine.co.za and saw the advert. Had a skype interview with David, and here I am three years later!
What makes a wine fine?
What has been your greatest mistake?
Overthinking things and not trusting my gut.
What is your biggest motivator?
To not disappoint.
How do you measure success?
If my husband enjoys the wine, I am happy. When you can be content with your decisions.
What inspires you?
Passion. And women, who do not conform to the norm, women who stand up to what they believe and do the things that brings them joy.
It’s Wednesday night at 18:30. What’s for dinner?
A lekker braai never disappoints on a Wednesday evening.
If you weren’t making wine, what would you be doing?
If I did not make wine, a few things have crossed my mind. A beauty therapist, teacher, paediatrician - some very diverse options!
What do you rate as your proudest achievement?
Managing a vineyard and people, since that is one of the things I was most scared off. Not that I have succeeded but the vines are still alive so I guess that alone is an achievement!
What is a big no-no to you when it comes to making wine?
Compromising on quality and narrow-mindedness when it comes to willingness to try new things. Not being open to advise from others.
What would you like to achieve over the next 15 years?
Besides starting a family, to see my own label grow organically.
Who or what is your idea of oenological brilliance?
Minimal intervention and pioneers in the industry, willing to think outside the box - mentors like David Trafford, David and Nadia Sadie, Chris Alheit, the Mullineux’s.
Where are you happiest?
At the beach.
What flavours inspire taste memories for you?
The connotation of visiting a special place or just being in the area where something is made, makes the flavour stick in the memory a bit better and longer. Harvesting in Portugal, eating fresh figs whilst working on the sorting table and smelling the Touriga Nacional on the sorting table. Also, my grandmother was an amazing cook. The cinnamon in her melktert, the vanilla in her vanilla cake, the cloves in her chicken and leg of lamb.
What are the biggest challenges we face in the South African wine industry? Where would you like to see us go and grow over the next ten years?
Our country has a lot of inequality. I would love to see more farm workers and children get great education and better communication from a-z. There are so many opportunities for us as a country and our people. It would also be awesome to see more people being exposed to good wine and being educated about it.
Your cellar is underwater. You can save one bottle of wine from your collection – what do you choose?
Let’s hope that it starts raining so that our cellars can be flooded! I’ll save the first bottle of wine I made at Kanonkop when I interned there.
What is your favourite food and wine memory?
Bordeaux, May 2017. We visited Chateau Pontent Canet and the owner Alfred Tesseron invited us to have lunch in his Chateaux with his personal chef in his kitchen. My first 'Chateau' experience. We dined like kings.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? What would you cook and why?
The Beatles - I would definitely NOT be cooking.
What is the best and worst thing about working in the wine industry?
Best - tasting and drinking a lot of wine. The people. Worst - tasting and drinking a lot of wine!
Looking back, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Stop overthinking, go for it.