The year 2018 is the year of the woman. We have seen some incredible displays of woman empowerment and activism in the media, with women in all industries taking a stand for equal recognition in the workplace. Meet Alicia Rechner, a winemaker extraordinaire at Backsberg Estate Cellars in Paarl, Western Cape. Alicia is making strides in an industry that’s been dominated by men in the past. Not only is she a highly respected winemaker, she’s also a mother of two children.
How did you get started in the wine business?
Who in the wine world do you admire and how have they influenced you?
When I started working at Backsberg in 2002, I was very fortunate to have two strong winemaking talents, Zelma Long and Rodney Easthope, to learn and draw inspiration from on a daily basis. They had an incredible influence on my craft and understanding of the cellar. At the same time, I had the legendary Michael Fridjhon at hand; a master in the art of tasting and blending. The combined influences of these three people made my winemaking what is today.
Describe your winemaking style?
Clean and simple. I prefer not to manipulate things too much. Wine should taste like the fruit it was made from.
What factors make a great vintage?
When grapes ripen at different paces – not all at once – it allows more time to pick them with discretion. There is nothing worse than having heaps of ripe fruit that all needs to be harvested at once. Cool evenings with warm days. Enough water. No fire or wind. Excellent machinery, cooling and cellar hands. Oh, and kids that are older than seven. Or no kids.
Which is your favorite variety to work with and why?
I love working with them all, I really do. The fun part about making wine is working with distinct varieties; each is unique. But, if I HAD to choose, I would say Merlot is my favourite because it’s such an easy wine to make. It’s like a child who requires little attention and blossoms on his or her own. Merlot, in my opinion, is naturally meant to make wine.
What have been some of the challenges facing this year’s harvest?
The drought. This is by far the worst drought I’ve experienced during my career.
Any advice for budding winemakers?
Winemakers often need a lot of guidance. My advice is to not be shy but rather to ask for assistance. We emerge from university feeling eager and bursting with knowledge, but when faced with your first (and in my case 21st) harvest, you feel like you know nothing! It’s okay to ask for help. If you’re too shy to ask someone else, ask me. I still make mistakes after 21 years.
Tell us why you love working at Backsberg and what sets your wines apart?
Backsberg has a very loyal consumer base and when I meet them and hear their enthusiasm, I’m always reminded how much I like being here.
My wine is usually typical of the variety and easy to distinguish. I always try to be consistent. This is something our customers really enjoy. Our consistency is what sets us apart.
What is one of the most rewarding things about your job?
Diversity. There is very little routine in this industry and each day brings something new. One of my favourite things is starting a new year with an empty cellar and having it filled to the brim with fine wine by Easter. I just love that.
Images: Kristen Duff