MEET THE TEAM
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.
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.
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.”
BEN, CHRISTINE, FRIEDL, STIAAN AND DIMITRI
When we bought Vondeling, Ben lived on the farm with his wife Monica and he worked for Nampak in Paarl. He kept his small garden immaculately. When the main farmhouse and gardens were restored, we asked Ben if he would look after the grounds and gardens fulltime. That was 2003. He has done this with distinction ably assisted by Friedl, Dimitri and Stiaan. 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 2011 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’s also excited about the resident herd of Black Angus. He enjoys walking amongst them in the mornings.
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 favourite part of job is the satisfaction he gets from seeing progress. Magnus lives on Klein Vondeling with his wife, Ciska, and his two daughters, Lisa and Mia. He loves the open space and tranquillity of living there and you’ll find him going up into the mountain as often as he can. He’s reported seeing caracal, baboons, and buck as well as spotting evidence of leopards. 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 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. The pair live right next door to the farm with their 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.
DANNY, ROSIE AND DELNAYDE
Danny left Twee Jonge Gezellen in 1998 and came to help me plant a large vineyard in Tulbagh (Schalkenbosch) from scratch (33ha). When we moved to Vondeling in 2000 he, Rosie & Delnayde (who was 7 at the time) moved too. Danny has been my right-hand man ever since. Rosie is the invoicing clerk and Delnayde is a qualified wine-maker’s assistant and works under Matthew and Emile.
CHRISJAN, NATHAN AND SERELDA
Chrisjan is a highly skilled vineyard worker who has also worked in the wine cellar in the past. Serelda who worked in the vineyard and wine tasting centre is now the much loved nanny of farm manager’s Magnus’s little girl. Serelda’s son, Nathan in a few short years has become one of our most skilled workers in both vineyard and cellar at harvest. Chrisjan and Serelda were married in January 2017.
If Louwtjie wasn’t the sharpest financial manger in Vondeling’s toolbox; then he may have been one of our winemakers. “I have always enjoyed doing calculations, but I also wanted to become winemaker. Though, I already had my accounting diploma—and a car payment—so now I am doing the second best thing, being an accountant in the wine industry!
“It took me 14 long years to get my first job in the wine industry, says Louwtjie. Before landing at Vondeling he first worked at a local government, followed by some stints in the printing, building and tyre industries. His first foray into the wine world was at Tulbagh Winery. He was there for six years before joining Vondeling Wines.
It was like coming home. Louwtjie grew up in Wellington and was an avid swimmer growing up—when he was just six-years-old he dived from 5-metre diving board. He says his favourite thing about his job is completing the monthly income statement and having made a profit. In his day-to-day he loves: “The silence in the morning and afternoon and the magnificent views of the vineyards and Paardeberg Mountain.”
Louwtjie is married to Willecia and they have two daughters, Gabrielle and Isabelle.The family is complete with dogs, Daisy and Tiger, and budgie, Carlos. When you’re not working Louwtjie plays Jukskei in the summer and in the winter he enjoys reading.
TILLA AND GERT
Tilla came to work in our first farmhouse in Wellington in 1992. When we moved to Tulbagh in 1998 Gert resigned from Oaklands stud (under Bainskloof) and came with us. Tilla is now Vondeling winemaker, Matthew’s son’s nanny and Gert our longest serving vineyards man.
ASSISTANT TASTING ROOM MANAGER
Riki joined the Vondeling team in June 2015 and has settled in very nicely – lending a helping hand in more areas than just the tasting room! Riki studied Cellar Management and Viticulture at Elsenburg and though she loves the inside of a cellar, she prefers the inside of the tasting room. “I love people. And I love sharing my knowledge of the journey from the vine to wine with visitors.”
What Riki loves about working at Vondeling is the scenery, the people and being so close to nature on a daily basis.
Riki lives in Malmesbury where she grew up and finished school. When not behind the tasting room counter you will find Riki spending time with friends and family – usually outside with camera in hand.
STEPHEN VAN EYSSEN
DEBTORS AND STOCK MANAGER
Stephen joined the Vondeling team in January 2019 as wine store and debtor’s manager. A born and bred “Paarlite” – attended Boys High Paarl and started his working career in the printing industry. In later years he moved into logistics and warehousing.
Stephen is a great sports lover and on weekends you will find him with friends and family around the braai enjoying a game of rugby on the telly and a glass of Vondeling wine in hand.
He is a family man to the core and is happily married to wife Tertia and they live in Paarl with their two children Stephen and Ané.
MAVIS AND ANGELINA
Angelina arrived on Vondeling in 2003 on a visit to her brother in law, Elliot. She never left and has been working in the vineyards ever since. Mavis joined the team in 2008 when Klein Vondeling was purchased. Mavis and Angelina are our most experienced and reliable ladies, highly skilled in pruning and training young vines.
JUSTIN AND SOPHIE
Sophie and her son Justin joined the team when Armajaro Estates bought St Clement in 2010. They work in the vineyards and Justin is a skilled quadbike operator.