A couple of months ago it was reported that one of the Creation cellar staff members was stuck in New Zealand due to Covid-19. Now his colleagues, friends and family are delighted to welcome Kirsten Myburgh back into the fold. What follows is an edited version of an interview conducted with him by Noluvu Lulu Ludidi of the Hermanus Times.
When you heard you would have an opportunity to go to New Zealand what were your first thoughts?
What can I say? A lot went through my mind … all sorts of emotions. For sure, it was a dream that became a reality! I am a massive fan of New Zealand rugby and was so excited. I never thought I would see New Zealand with my own eyes.
Where and with whom were you working?
I was based in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand and I was working for Foley Family Wines situated in Martinborough. Martinborough Vineyard is small in relation to Creation, doing about half the tonnage. Some 80% of the grapes are Pinot Noir and then there’s a little bit of Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris. I worked with winemaker Paul Mason and two students, Tobie from the USA and Coco from France, near Beaune. Between the four of us we finished the vintage under tough conditions. The lockdown had just started and we were not allowed to leave the winery for four weeks. It was icy, some 10 degrees during the day and 0 degrees at night, with a great deal of rain.
What did you learn about winemaking?
The main thing I learned was cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. Always be in control of yourself, manage your behaviour and listen before you act. I have also learned more about fining wines: milk is used to fine the Noble Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc and egg white to soften the tannins in Pinot Noir.
Is there a difference between South African and New Zealand wines?
There is a vast difference; the climate and terroir play a significant role. The long cold nights in New Zealand mean that the grapes can have frost or be frozen in the morning. We needed to wait until the sun came out before we could harvest. There were days when it was very misty and one could barely see 10 metres in front of you. Many of the wines produced are site-specific, for example just four barrels of the Cambridge Road are produced each vintage. The Pinots are in a league of their own for sure – very good, well balanced and with a beautiful structure. Martinborough is the place for Pinot Noir in New Zealand.
You were caught up in New Zealand due to Covid-19. What was that experience like?
Yes, but I realised that it was for the best. We were very isolated, all living safely together in the winery under good conditions.
Did you miss home?
There is no place like home! The time difference made it difficult to communicate with friends and family. I said to myself I have to stay calm as there was nothing I could do to change the situation. Paul Mason, the winemaker, was pleasant and understanding and took good care of me while I was stuck there.
How did you keep busy? What was the country like during Covid-19?
It was tough in the beginning. The people adhered to all the rules and regulations that were implemented. At one stage Martinborough looked like a ghost town – empty streets with no cars and no people.
What were you allowed to do and what not?
We were only allowed to do necessary stuff, like going to the doctor or the supermarket. We had to keep social distancing and no restaurants or bars were open. Everyone was in lockdown for the first five weeks.
How does their culture differ from ours?
There is a considerable difference. I could only speak English for four and a half months meaning my English has improved. All the people are generous, friendly and respectful. They stand together and no one yells at anyone. But I missed braaiing; they don’t know anything about it!
How does it feel to be back home?
To be back home is good and it’s nice to see family and friends again. At some stage I thought I would not see South Africa again or that I would not see it soon. My faith is big and I trusted God with all his plans; it also brought me closer to Him.
How do you intend implementing what you have learned at Creation?
I want to give back to Creation what I learned there. The different kind of winemaking was quite a revelation and I can share that knowledge. I want to say thank you to Carolyn and JC Martin, Gerhard Smith and Salome Geldenhuys of Creation and to Paul Mason of Martinborough Vineyard for making my dream come true.
What does it mean for you/Creation to send employees to other countries to intern and learn more about wine and what is the purpose?
The intention is to expand our team’s horizons, for them to learn new skills and broaden their experience. It is also a reward for their commitment and hard work; we believe the exchange in ideas creates innovative thinking.