MEET THE TEAM
JULIAN JOHNSEN, MANAGING DIRECTOR
MATTHEW COPELAND, SENIOR WINEMAKER
The beauty of the winelands is something that’s always held fast in this Englishman’s heart. After studying agriculture at The Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester he came down to the Cape to work on a relative’s wine farm. He was hooked.
So in 1990, Julian packed his bags to pursue a life of wine in South Africa. He bought a farm in Wellington where he produced his first wine in 1993. A decade later the opportunity to acquire Vondeling came up.“I was always quite keen on this area. It’s a well-known industry secret that the Paardeberg, with its microclimate, is great area for top quality fruit.
“About a year after we bought the place I wrote to ten of the richest people I knew in the world to invest in Vondeling,” says Julian with a laugh.
At first they weren’t interested—until two of his long-time friends came to the Cape for a visit. The friends were Anthony Ward and Richard Gower, who he took for a long lunch followed by a trip up to the Paardeberg to see the cannon. “By the time they got to the top, they were in.” This investment allowed Julian to replant the vineyards as well as to rebuild the winery.
Julian is married to Bridget, who he met in a pub in Paarl over two decades ago. The couple have two children. Bridget shares Julian’s love of the land and is the driving force behind the Paardeberg Sustainability Initiative, a NPO that manages several conservation and development projects in the Paardeberg.
Anthony Ward is an old friend of Julian Johnsen who he approached in 2001 to invest in Vondeling in order to replant the vineyards and rebuild the winery. Without his energy and commitment Julian Johnsen never would have been able to create the modern day Vondeling.
Matthew likes to keep it real. This is a winemaker who cuts out the superfluous. “I use every honest technique and practice to express the origins of the fruit in the most authentic way,” he says touching on his winemaking philosophy.
“No gimmicks, no sales pitches; just blood, sweat and tears.” Matthew’s focus is to consistently hone and improve his wines. He says that part of this is that there’s always ‘some kind of left-field experimental project [skin ferments, extended macerations and the like] going on in the cellar,’ but that ‘hardly any see the light of day.’
“I don’t do them for the sake of a gimmick, but rather as a trial run for a couple of years, and sometimes I’ll incorporate elements of my findings into my winemaking.”
Growing up in Paarl, Matthew’s interest in wine started at a young age. After high school he went to work in wine regions across the world, including Switzerland, France, California, Australia and New Zealand. Only when he returned home did he study at Elsenburg Agricultural College. “Most people do it the other way round”, he says with a laugh. He completed his diploma with a distinction in winemaking.
He worked at Welbedacht in Wellington, where he helped design and build the cellar and in 2007 he joined Julian at Vondeling.
Matthew appreciates how everything happens under one roof at Vondeling. “You grow your own grapes, make the wine, and bottle the wine.”
He lives on Vondeling, overlooking the vineyards, with his wife Yolandi and two sons, Joshua and Henry. The family enjoys going for runs and walks on the farm, and soaking up the quiet, unspoilt surroundings.
“I got married here, had my two children here—my roots run deep.”
SALES, MARKETING, PR & SOCIAL MEDIA
Shura’s grown up on Vondeling all her life alongside a large majority of the team, “they really are like family to me”, she says with a warm smile, “Vondeling is in my blood and pumps through my veins.”
Shura manages Vondeling’s communication channels as well as national sales and marketing. “It’s quite moving and daunting at the same time to be communicating the message of a brand that I hold so close to my heart.”
She studied a Bachelor of Science in Genetics and Biochemistry at The University of Cape Town and thereafter completed an Advanced Diploma in Marketing and Advertising Communications at The Red & Yellow Creative School of Business.
“I’m intrigued by the world of science but also have a deep passion for creativity and people, and for me, wine is the perfect intersection of all of these! Wine is a beautiful and intriguing craft — a combination of science and art!”
ZELDI DU PLESSIS,
TASTING ROOM AND FUNCTIONS MANAGER
“The first time I researched Vondeling Wines, I immediately fell in love with the beautiful farm and venue. From that day I knew that my future will be at Vondeling.”
After completing her Degree in Drama Technical Studies, she worked in the film and theatre industry for 4 years and decided that her love for wine and functions needed to be fulfilled. Zeldi did a course in Marketing and started working at Vondeling as the Tasting and Function Manager in 2019. “The best feeling is the proud feeling when you meet people that visit our tasting room and is blown away by the beauty and tranquillity the location has to offer and then treating them with our wonderful selection of wines!”
“And what a wonderful group of people to work with – they have very quickly started to feel like friends!”
Need a venue for a function or a wedding or want to make a booking in the guest house? You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
DEREK, TREVOR, SAM AND ELLIOT
Trevor and Sam are both skilled tractor drivers and have been on the Vondeling team for a couple of years. Derek has been working on Vondeling since 2004. Elliot is from Elliot in the Eastern Cape. I picked him up for a day’s work in Tulbagh off the street in 1999 and he has never left. A very solid citizen.
WERNER, CHRISTINE, DIMITRI, JACOBUS & HEIN
In 2019 Werner started with us here at Vondeling. With his hard-working team, Dimitri, Jacobus and Hein, Werner made sure that all our gardens are well kept after. His special touch with grass gave our lovely Chapel and Tasting room a facelift we are super proud of! Christine has become a bit of a legend with overseas guests being friendly, hardworking and efficient. Many visitors have wanted to pack her in their suitcases and whisk her off to England!
VITICULTURIST AND FARM MANAGER
If you’re looking for Magnus—go outside. He joined the team at Vondeling in 2012 and his experience with organic farming has been an integral part of the greening process of the farm. He has steered the way by using more natural products as well as farming with a focus on sustainability.
“I love being outside,” says Magnus. “You see the seasons come and go. There’s always something to look forward to.”
Magnus has worked at Waverley Hills, Rhebokskloof, and Son Op (the latter being his very first job). His time at Waverley Hills has helped hone his organic farming principles. Along with the farm’s evolving focus on sustainability.
He describes himself as a ‘farmer’s farmer’—which is no surprise considering he grew up on a wine farm in Stellenbosch. It was a natural progression for him to go on to study agriculture at Elsenburg. Magnus says that he’s the go-to man in a crisis. “Whatever it is, I’ll sort it out. I think fast on my feet.”
He describes himself as hard-working and passionate, and his favorite part of the job is the satisfaction he gets from seeing progress. Magnus lives on Vrymansfontein with his wife, Ciska, and his two daughters, Lisa and Mia. When not working, you’ll still find him outdoors: either with a beer around a braai, or fishing and camping.
EMILE VAN DER MERWE
Vineyards have always intrigued Emile. Growing up close to the Durbanville wine region, Emile and his brother took it upon themselves to visit as many wine farms as possible. This vinous education saw him in good stead, and a passion was ignited to learn more about what makes wines from different regions taste so comparatively different.
With a degree from Elsenburg Agricultural College (while studying he worked at Leeuwenkuil) under his belt—he hopped on a plane to go work a harvest in Australia followed by one in Sonoma, California. Back on home soil, he worked a vintage at Guardian Peak in Stellenbosch—as well as one in Saint-Émilion in the same year. It was while he was the winemaking assistant at Morgenhof that he got a call from the proprietor, Julian Johnsen asking him to join the Vondeling team.
Emile enjoys the freedom of being able to make small batches of experimental wine. His first is a single barrel of Sauvignon Blanc which was named “Boere Jive” in honour of his late father’s first published collection of poetry. Emile married his wife Hilani in Vondeling’s chapel. They live right next door to the farm with their 3 children, Anna and the twins Mari and Fanie, and two brown border collies.
After work, you’ll generally find him sitting on the stoep playing with the dogs and drinking wine. Also a lover of the outdoors, on his days off he likes to go fishing, hiking, 4x4ing… whatever it is, you can be sure it will still involve wine.
WILLEM AND MOLLA
Molla came to work for us in 1999 in Tulbagh when she was 18. She was our daughter’s nanny. She came with us to Vondeling in 2000. She met and fell in love with Willem in 2003. They have 3 children, Whalite, Shane and Rozantè and live on the St Clement side of Vondeling. Willem is Magnus’s right hand man in the vineyards and Molla is now the kitchen manager at the Vondeling Tasting Room.
JEFF, COMAN AND CHANDRÉ
Jeff and Coman became part of the team in 2008 when Armajaro Estates purchased Klein Vondeling. Jeff is our most experienced tractor driver and has taught his stepson Coman well. Chandré is originally from Michells Plain and is Coman’s commen law wife. She works in the vineyards.
When foodie Lindsay isn’t keeping our office running as smooth as our Erica Shiraz, she loves to cook. In fact, food is so important to her that her favourite childhood memory revolves around it: “I was 6-years-old and we were travelling to Durban for the Christmas holidays. I ate the tastiest seafood pizza ever! I can still remember the taste!”
Lindsay grew up in Wellington. “I used to work part-time for a bookkeeper that had Armajaro Estates as a client. The bookkeeper heard of the job opening and thought that I would be a great fit for the position.” They were right. Her favourite thing about her job is that she gets to work with a ‘great group of colleagues’. “There’s no such thing as “office quarrels” in our working environment!”
She also loves the scenery. “I’m not only blessed to be working for this wonderful estate, but also to be staying on the farm too. There’s nothing more amazing then waking up to the sound of birds gathering in the blue gum tree next to my bedroom window chirping away.”
Lindsay is married to Chistopher Abrahams, and they have a son, Cameron.