Izele van Berk’s dream was to become a professional tennis player. But after tearing a knee ligament within the first three months of moving to the US to pursue that dream after matric, it slipped away.
Having invested all her energy in tennis, Van Berk had to do some introspection and figure out what to do with her life.
“My dad is in the wine industry, and we grew up on a farm with wine my whole life, working on the farm in school holidays. I decided when I came back that wine was the thing for me.”
To advance this interest and hone her craft, Van Berk went to Stellenbosch, studying for a BSc in viticulture and oenology from 2005 to 2008.
She did her practical at KWV before starting full-time at the company a year later. She’s been there ever since. “I’m very fortunate to have been working with almost 70 different farmers all over the Western Cape because that gives us, as wine-makers, the opportunity to experiment, play around with different techniques that’s what The Mentors cellar stands for.
“I’m in a fortunate position to be making wines in this cellar. It’s about pushing boundaries and living out your passion.”
Stellenbosch is the primary location for viticulture and its research for the country’s massive industry, which produces in excess of 1000000000 litres annually. With a large number of oak trees (it is known as the city of oaks), sprawling farms and stunning mountains, it is one of South Africa’s most beautiful towns.
Van Berk and her team at KWV recently hosted a luncheon at Marble restaurant in Rosebank, Johannesburg, to give media and influencers a taste of the last cases of a selection of its 2012 vintage.
On offer was The Mentors sauvignon blanc 2012, The Mentors semillon 2012, The Mentors grenache blanc 2011, The Mentors shiraz 2012 and The Mentors cabernet sauvignon 2012.
Since its launch in 2006, The Mentors range has established itself as one of the most sought-after premium brands in the South African wine landscape.
The idea for the luncheon came about after Van Berk sought to showcase the ageability of white wine after it became apparent to her that most local consumers have the misconception that you need to drink it in the year of its harvest. She said we have extremely good quality white wine that just keeps getting better with time in the bottle.
Her favourite in this selection is the cabernet.
“It’s the first year that we produced the cabernet under The Mentors label. Everyone kept on asking me why we don’t produce the cabernet, ‘the king of all the red wines’. And my answer is always that the wine needs to be at exceptional quality. I’m not going to put a wine in a bottle if it doesn’t meet our expectation of quality.
“This one is very special to my heart, it’s a blend of Darling grapes, Stellenbosch and Paarl and that is just capturing all the best cabernets and putting them together to get this perfect wine.”
Like Stellenbosch, Paarl is famous for its great wine. It is also the largest town in the Cape Winelands. The town attracts thousands of tourists annually due to its stunning Cape Dutch buildings, which date back to the 17th century, world-class restaurants and breathtaking views.
Of the wines on offer, my favourite was the grenache.
The wine pairings, which Van Berk oversaw along with Wikus (the sommelier at Marble), were excellent. Chef David Higgs prepared the delicious five-course meal - my favourite s being the grilled calamari, almond mole and crisp chicken skin, which was paired with the grenache blanc, and the grilled beef sirloin, wood fired leeks, leek mayonnaise and Parmesan crumble, which was paired with the cabernet sauvignon.