She is not your typical wine maker. She is South Africa’s first sparkling wine specialist.
Melanie van der Merwe grew up on the farm Uitkyk in De Doorns, Western Cape, South Africa where her parents Albertus Kriel and her late
mom Maria Kriel farmed with export grapes. Here she learned not only to love the nature but she learned how to appreciate wine.
“Every Sunday my brothers and I got a bit of “Sweet wine” in our own small glasses. My Mom and Dad were in the grape industry and they
just realized that they need to teach their children to appreciate wine and to know it. She went to school in the Hex valley High School
where she matriculated. She went to Stellenbosch University where she studied BsC agriculture with Viticulture and Oenology,
at that stage one of only a few girls to study winemaking in those years. Of nine students she was the only girl in class.
She started her career at Distillers Corporation in 1994. Did wine research for 10 months and was then employed as winemaker in 1995
by the same company. In 2001 she was appointed as Cellar Manager (Chef du Cave) / Sparkling Winemaker for Distell. She worked for a few
vintages in Champagne, France, where Michel Pansu (Chef du Cave of Louis Roederer Champagne), Thierry Gasco ( Chef du Cave of Pommery
Champagne) and George Blanc ( Chef du Cave of Moet & Chandon Champagne) taught her the finer skills of making Champagne.
“I will always remember these vintages as some of the most special in my life”
After making Sparkling wine and specifically the Cap Classique method for 11 years at Distell, which is the biggest producer of
sparkling wine in South Africa, she realized “This is my passion in life and to discontinue making Cap Classique sparkling wine would be
like to never fulfill my dream”.
After her resignation she continued to make Cap Classique sparkling wine, but obviously as it is her own business, in much smaller
quantities. During her career she won numerous local awards and was internationally acclaimed for the wines she made. She was also
nominated as “one of SA’s leading wine makers”. In 2006 she won the Amorim cork Wine magazine,s Cap Classique challenge with one of
the Cap Classique sparkling wines she made.
She believes that it is not possible to replicate classical mehode champenoise wines in South Africa, given the distinct differences in
terroir and climate. The majority of the Chardonnay and Pinot noir grapes grown for making her own wine – Tanzanite - originate in the
lime rich soils (as opposed to the mostly chalky soils of Champagne) from Stellenbosch, Rawsonville and Robertson. Yields are kept in
check through aggressive pruning and suckering.
Grapes are harvested in whole bunches by hand at 19- 20 Balling. The grapes must be ripe but by picking it early in the season it is
still crisp with high acidities and fresh fruit flavours. Grapes are whole bunch pressed. The grapes go through a soft champagne
pressing cycle to try and bruise the grape skins minimally. Fewer phenols are released and there is less extraction of tannins from the
skins. Yields are around 500 litres of juice per ton. To achieve a soft, yeasty complexity of flavours, all grapes undergo malolactic
fermentation (MLF) after the primary alcoholic fermentation. This gives the base wine a rounder, broader and more elegant ending.
Blending is a very crucial part of making a good wine – in doing this a lot of time is spend. After the blending process the wines
are stabilized, inoculated with yeast, and bottled. The bottled wine is taken into temperature controlled cellars.
It is here in the still dark quiet of the cellar where the secondary fermentation takes place – the so called “prisse de mousse”
literally the development of the mousse. The yeast converts the sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol and the wine turn effervescent.
As a good Cap Classique sparkling wine is rated on the mouth feel this is an extremely important part for the Tanzanite style.
The wines are tasted every six months to determine the time the specific vintage must spend on the lees. None less than twenty four months.
Ageing on the lees is one of the crucial parts in making a good Cap Classique. The wine must reach its optimum maturity.
After the process of riddling and degorgement the sugar will be adjusted according to the wine’s taste.
She only makes brut style methode Cap Classique wines:
A Non Vintage Brut and a Brut Rose under the "Tanzanite" Label.
The name Tanzanite:
This is the December birthstone which happens to be Melanie’s birth month. The wine was inspired by the stone Tanzanite – all the
qualities wanted in the wine was in the stone itself - rare, beautiful, delicate, high quality and highly sought after.
Tanzanite expresses my passion for creating unique sparkling wines in the time-honored, traditional way.