Michael van Niekerk has worked as Audacia’s winemaker since 2009. He is a graduate of Elsenburg Agricultural College and has completed degree courses in Cellar Technology, Cellar Management, Viticulture and Wine Science. Michael has worked at a number of estates in the Western Cape and also spent time in both Australia and California exploring their regional approaches to winemaking.
Michael is energetic, talented and passionate. He believes in making wine ‘for people who love to drink wine,’ with an honest and pragmatic approach to wine making. He is also a great innovator – proof being Audacia’s innovative breakthrough ‘No Sulphur Added’ wine range.
Michael understands that wine is a living, organic liquid that should not be overly fussed with, but allowed to develop naturally. He looks for his solutions within the wine and tries not to impose too much on the processes of nature. He is well loved by his team who offer him their unfailing loyalty – a loyalty earned by treating one and all with respect and deference.
Making ‘No Sulphur Added’ Rooibos / Honeybush naturally preserved wine
Immediately after harvest, our grapes and the wines they produce are bought into contact with natural indigenous tannins. Where ever we would have added Sulphur in the wine making process in the past we now add locally produced tannins. These impart unique preservative providing antioxidants and polyphenols into the wine, without the need to add sulphur, thus creating the exciting and revolutionary new wine making process.
The winemaker on Audacia is the link between vineyards and cellar, controlling all aspects of both viticulture and winemaking. Perfection is reflected in everything that occurs on Audacia: winter pruning and additional summer growth limitation means the crop is restricted to between seven and eight tons per hectare. Audacia is compact enough to ensure each vine gets individual attention.
Just after the grapes begin to change colour, from green to black (in a process called veraison), the team go through all the vineyards doing a vendangevert or green harvest. This entails cutting excess bunches of grapes from the vine in order to concentrate the flavours in the remaining bunches. It's also a good way of getting rid of any poor grape bunches and ensuring that only the best grapes make it into the cellar.
Once ripe, grapes are harvested into individual lug boxes which are then decanted into 500kg bins. When two of these half ton bins are full, they are swiftly transported to the cellar which is just 700m away from the furthest vineyard. This practice ensures the grapes are kept cool so as not to be vulnerable to the growth of any potential spoilage organisms.
Production is in the region of 125 to 135 tons of grapes, translating into roughly 20 000 cases (six bottles) of wine.
Each different block of grapes are vinified separately in small seven ton stainless steel tanks. Experiments are done with a range of different low Sulphur yielding yeasts in an attempt to get the best result for each particular vineyard block or grape variety while keeping naturally occurring sulphur to a minimum.
After the initial alcoholic fermentation a preliminary blending is done, based on the quality of the different batches which the winemaker has at his disposal. Some of the wines then go into cement tanks with oak staves to spend time obtaining wood character, while those destined for the Audacia flagship range go into brand new 300 litre French oak barrels. Depending on the style desired – and the wine's reaction to the wooding regime – the barrel maturation takes between 12 and 18 months.
After bottling, there is a further 12 to 24 month maturation period before the Audacia wine is released onto the market. This final step of bottle maturation ensures that the consumer can be confident of a deliciously smooth red wine at the time of purchase, which will not only drink well, but mature further too.