Inside the high-stakes, fast-paced lives of South Africa’s top winemakers during harvest


Harvest season is the most exhilarating and challenging time of the year for winemakers across the globe. The dedication and passion of South African winemakers Ryan Puttick, Richard Duckitt, Ricardo Cloete, Alicia Rechner, Charl Schoeman, Danielle Jacobs, Liza Goodwin, and Jacques Viljoen drive the creation of world-class wines. 

Here’s an inside look at their demanding yet rewarding daily routine during this critical period. 

Early mornings and strategic planning 

Winemaking begins before the sun rises. Ryan Puttick, winemaker for Old Road Wine Co. starts his day at 5 am. His team gathers to offload early harvests, primarily from certified heritage vineyards, ensuring that everything runs smoothly. By 7 am, the full team is in action, tackling tasks from fermenting tank checks to mentoring young harvest interns, which is an important part of nurturing young talent for the future.

Winemaker Ryan Puttick

Richard Duckitt of Bellingham Wines begins his day with a big coffee, preparing breakfast for his children, and performing the chaotic school run. By the time he arrives at the cellar, he’s already planning the day’s tasks in his head, from monitoring the cooling unit to overseeing grape receivals.

Winemaker Richard Duckitt


Winemaker Ricardo Cloete

For Alicia Rechner at Backsberg Family Wines, a 24-hour winery operation demands constant co-ordination, made possible by her extensive experience. She handles the early white grape harvest in February’s heat, and shifts to the later red varietals as the weather cools. Alicia is fanatical about precision, so managing the relentless flow of grapes and making sure her small team knows exactly what needs to be done each day keeps her on her toes.


Winemaker Alicia Rechner

Charl Schoeman of Boschendal starts his day in the vineyards, tasting grapes and planning the logistics for the day’s harvest. Ensuring optimal ripeness is critical, as is the efficiency of his team, who only pick during the cool morning hours.

Danielle Jacobs, Cap Classique winemaker of Boschendal’s iconic bubbly also starts early, preparing her cellar and sampling vineyard blocks while the grapes are still cool. Detailed planning is integral to her process, so that only the best grapes make it to fermentation. 

Boschendal winemakers Charl Schoeman, Danielle Jacobs and Jacques Viljoen

At Fryer’s Cove Vineyards, Liza Goodwin’s experience exemplifies the dedication and meticulous planning required to transform grapes into exceptional wines. A week before harvest, Liza ensures that all machinery is operational. Tanks, pumps, and wine pipes are sterilized, and all necessary supplies are stocked. On the morning of picking, she oversees the harvest to make sure that only healthy bunches are selected.

Winemaker Liza Goodwin

Winemaker Liza Goodwin

Maintaining quality under pressure

Once the grapes arrive at the winery, the real work begins. Each winemaker has a unique approach to managing the fermentation process and maintaining quality. 

Ryan spends many hours in the vineyards during the growing and ripening season, and works “hand in glove” with his grower partners to ensure each of the vineyards produces grapes that suit the style and quality of the wine he envisions. Once the grapes are in, he needs to make the important decision on how to correctly handle them to achieve the highest quality. Each growing season or vintage is different, so there is no “recipe” to follow – and Ryan’s years of experience help him make these critical decisions. 

Richard’s meticulous record-keeping and flexible planning allow him to adapt to changing conditions. His deep understanding of each vineyard helps him nurture the grapes to express their best characteristics. 

Alicia stays present in the winery, energising her team and maintaining clear communication. Her intuitive decision-making, backed by years of experience, guides her through the harvest, which can be chaotic and ever-changing. 

Charl strives to celebrate Boschendal’s exceptional vineyards and terroir in Stellenbosch and Elgin. His approach varies by grape variety – he favours whole bunch-pressing for Chardonnay and using deft skin contact for Sauvignon Blanc to accentuate the natural flavours of the grapes. 

Danielle emphasises precision in crafting Cap Classique. Detailed planning and adaptability to weather conditions ensure that she receives perfectly ripe grapes. Her focus on quality at every stage, from pressing to fermentation, sets her wines apart. 

The relentless hustle – and moments of joy 

Harvest season is a relentless hustle, but it’s also deeply rewarding. Each winemaker finds motivation in their passion for wine and the satisfaction of creating something exceptional. A winemaker only has one chance per year to craft something memorable; there is no going back or “do-overs”, so the planning and critical decisions made during harvest will be evident in the wines for years to come. 

For Ryan, the transformation of raw grapes into a product enjoyed worldwide is thrilling. The smell of fermenting must each morning is a constant reminder of the exciting journey from grape to wine. 

Richard finds joy in watching wine develop from grape to barrel to bottle. Understanding that great wine comes from the vineyard, not manipulation, keeps him grounded and motivated. 

Alicia draws energy from podcasts, a healthy lifestyle, and her team’s dedication. Her ability to stay organised and communicate effectively ensures a smooth harvest season. 

Charl and Danielle are driven by the opportunity to influence the final product. Charl’s respect for the vineyard’s character and Danielle’s focus on the intricacies of Cap Classique production showcase their commitment to excellence. 

Liza and Jacques share similar motivations. Liza emphasises the importance of vineyard selection and fermentation monitoring, while Jacques adapts daily to changing conditions, keeping detailed records and maintaining open communication with his team. For Liza, the excitement lies in transforming raw grapes into a product enjoyed worldwide. The unique smell of fermenting must or wine each morning is a cherished memory in the making. 

The stories of these winemakers reveal the passion, dedication, and meticulous effort required to produce exceptional wines. Despite the pressure and challenges, their love for winemaking and commitment to quality shine through, resulting in wines that capture the essence of South Africa’s rich terroir. 


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