With the launch of his new calendar for the year 2024 (available from our Cellar Door), Achim von Arnim shares some insights into his unique world view, love of wine, and his personal journey as a visionary Cellar Master.
As spring turns to summer and the vines unfurl from their winter rest, we think ahead to the new year on the horizon, the next harvest in the Franschhoek Valley, the festive season so soon upon us, and the warmer weather coming our way. We also look back and reminisce about the year gone by, our journey as a wine estate so far, and the incredible people who have been integral to our evolution. One of the most pivotal personalities in the history of Haute Cabrière is undoubtably our founder, Achim von Arnim – the father of Haute Cabrière, a pioneer in the wine industry, and a passionate wine producer. These are his stories…
Q&A with Achim von Arnim
1. Can you share the story of how you first became interested in wine and the world of wine.
My journey into the world of wine started when my mother, Theodora, had the fortuitous encounter with a famous wine personality of the Champagne region, André Simon, in the 1960s. He was visiting the Cape during our summers and they met while she was teaching at Silwood School of Cookery in Cape Town.
My mother was inspired by his passion for great food and wine as a way to bring people together to enjoy life, and upon my return from military service at the age of 20, she suggested that I work in a wine cellar and learn about viniculture and oenology. This motherly suggestion planted a seed that came to be a lifelong love of creating wines that bring people together, my raison d’etre [reason for being].
2. Your journey in the wine industry led you to become the Cellar Master at Boschendal. What pivotal experiences or lessons did you gain during your time there that shaped your approach to the production of wine?
Working as the Cellar Master at Boschendal allowed me to explore the secluded valleys of the Cape Winelands. During my time at Boschendal, I learned the importance of terroir and how it influences the grapes’ characteristics. This experience deeply shaped my wine philosophy, emphasising the harmony of Sun, Soil, Vine, and Man in creating exceptional wines. The quality of wine begins in the vineyards – and this is honed in the cellar by a master’s hands.
This is how I understand the world of wine and this ultimately led me to Franschhoek where I saw immense potential in the soils of Haute Cabrière and so these vineyards were to be my tour de force and life’s work.
3. Haute Cabrière is known for pioneering wines in South Africa. Could you tell us more about the challenges and innovations involved in creating quality pioneering blends?
Pioneering new wines in South Africa is indeed a challenge. Haute Cabrière, from the beginning, was always going to be dedicated to classic Champagne varietals – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – and to utilising the unique cool conditions of our region.
A new blend or pioneering wine begins either as an idea and something we strive for, such as the first South African Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Cap Classique I produced while at Boschendal, or it can be a result of ingenuity, as was the case for the Haute Cabrière Chardonnay Pinot Noir. Either way, the process involves rigorous attention to detail, the ability to overcome challenges, and most importantly – a dedicated team which supports the vision and strives for it together.
4. Pierre Jourdan Brut, your traditional Champagne-style Cap Classique, has been a significant milestone in your career. What inspired you to create this particular wine, and how has it evolved over the years?
I had the good fortune to enjoy exquisite wines from the Champagne region in the company of André Simon when I was younger. Inspired by this, the Pierre Jourdan Brut Cap Classique was the realisation of my dream to create a quality South African Cap Classique that could stand proudly alongside the Champagne Houses in France.
This was the first wine we released as a new estate in 1986. It was named for the original proprietor of the land, Pierre Jourdan, in keeping with French tradition and to honour the Hugenouts who brought the culture of wine to the Cape. Over the years, we’ve continued to refine and evolve this exceptional wine, as well as grow the Pierre Jourdan range into a beautiful and dynamic collection of Cap Classiques.
5. The Haute Cabrière Chardonnay Pinot Noir blend is a wine that may not have happened. Can you share the story of how this unique wine came to be?
The Haute Cabrière Chardonnay Pinot Noir blend was a blend of bad luck and cunning. During the 1994 harvest, we were immensely challenged with unusually hot conditions. This was also the year that we built the Haute Cabrière underground cellar into an old quarry at the foot of the Middagkrans mountain. We were busy, it was extremely hot, and we were hand-picking the grapes so it was a long process.
The high sugar content in the grapes of the last days of harvest, maybe 20% of the crop, made them unsuitable for Cap Classique. Instead of writing off the crop, I had the idea that perhaps nature and circumstance had handed us a gift. They had offered us the chance to create something new and to challenge ourselves. And so, Haute Cabrière produced a still blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The first in South Africa.
This was a unique innovation shone with the fruity flavours of Chardonnay and was balanced by the richness of Pinot Noir. Its story and its delightful taste continue to make it a cherished wine. And, with it, the first wine under the Haute Cabrière label was born!
6. Your philosophy emphasises the importance of terroir and the harmony of ‘Sun, Soil, Vine, and Man’ in wine production. Could you elaborate on how these elements have influenced Haute Cabrière?
Terroir is the “interplay” of Sun, Soil and Vine, with Man as the conductor of the final creation. This is the core philosophy in our cellar. It underscores our commitment to capturing the essence of our region in every bottle. The unique soil compositions, climate, and topography of Franschhoek contribute the distinct characteristics of elegance to our wines. By nurturing these elements, we create wines that are truly reflective of our valley, making Haute Cabrière wines expressive of their origins.
7. Creating wines undoubtably requires creative flair. Could you tell us more about your other artistic endeavours and what inspires you?
Art is a fulfilling pastime for me. My art, displayed in our cellar and accompanied by my book of poetry, “NAKED”, is inspired by various sources including the natural beauty of the Cape, the world of wine, the people I meet, and the vibrant colours of the Cape. It’s a creative outlet that allows me to express my emotions and connect with my world. In the words of Albert Einstein: “True art is characterised by an irresistible urge in the creative artist”.
8. How do you see the connection between winemaking and art in your life? Do you find any parallels in these two creative pursuits?
The crafting of an excellent wine and a beautiful painting share a deep connection. Both require a keen sense of creativity, skill, patience and craftsmanship. In wine, we craft colour, flavours and scents, while in art, we create visuals of my experiences and passions. They intersect through the idea that both wine and art are meant to be shared and enjoyed with others, bringing joy, connection and inspiration.
9. Could you share some insights into the themes, styles, or messages that you aim to convey through your artworks?
Through my artworks, I aim to convey the beauty of the Cape, the vibrant spirit of Haute Cabrière wines, and the joy that wine brings people while sharing an experience together. Each painting, and each wine, share a story that is meaningful to me. My hope is that these artworks, and our wines, resonate with those who view or enjoy them and that these experiences inspire a deeper appreciation of life.
Where to purchase the 2024 Calendar...
The 2024 Calendar by Achim von Arnim is now available from our Cellar Door in Franschhoek. It includes selected pieces of Achim’s artistic works, hand-chosen by Achim himself.
R300 per calendar. Enquire with us to order.