Elgin Vintners Seeks Winemaker to Build on Solid Foundation

Elgin Vintners is in search of a new winemaker as Dr Marinda Kruger, credited with putting the winery on a substantial new growth path, departs for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the Napa Valley in California.

The award-winning winery in the cool-climate Elgin Valley, fast becoming one of South Africa’s premium wine regions, is now seeking a business-minded winemaker with international market experience to build on and add their own signature to a solid foundation.

Since joining Elgin Vintners as business manager and winemaker in 2018, Kruger has led streamlining and innovation in the wine portfolio and brought home numerous national and international accolades for the wines. She has established the winery’s own cellar and driven expansion of vineyards, enhancing the farm’s guest facilities, and turnover more than doubling with substantial boosts in volume and exports into a dozen markets.

“Marinda has made a tremendous impact in taking Elgin Vintners to another level, both in wine quality and business terms, enhancing the customer experience and putting us on a solid growth path with a strong export focus. We are very sad to lose her, but grateful that we have been able to benefit from her talent and business acumen,” Elgin Vintners co-owner James Rawbone-Viljoen said.

He said Kruger had instilled confidence in the vineyard management team and in the partners since she had taken the reins and instituted sound business management systems, with a strong team in the hospitality side as well as in winemaking, marketing, and sales, putting the business in a healthy state and well positioned for growth.

“I am extremely sad to be leaving but proud of what we have achieved as a team. I leave knowing that everyone at Elgin Vintners has seen how hugely promising the future is for the brand and knows what they need to do to take it forward, that each individual staff member plays an important role in this, but also collectively as a team,” Kruger added.

Kruger’s cutting-edge research for her PhD in Viticulture and Oenology obtained from Stellenbosch University last year, applying data visualisation to the winemaking process to predict the optimal stage of fermentation for quality and wine style, led to her being headhunted for the position of winemaking director with one of the 30 largest wineries in the USA.

There, she will oversee the annual production of 10 million bottles of wine for a winery rated earlier this year by FastCompany as one of the world’s top 10 most innovative companies using data science to build better products and services in diverse sectors.

“My task will be making sense of the in-depth scientific data, making it work for the business and translating that into fantastic wine for the customer – bringing craftsmanship, and science, to deliver highly personalised artificial intelligence-driven wine selections to the customer. We will be doing ground-breaking work in the customer experience of wine, and it is an exciting opportunity to be at the cutting-edge of the 21st century wine business,” she said.

“The Elgin Vintners partners are incredibly proud of what Marinda has achieved, that she has been sought out because her doctoral research has positioned her as the best in the world in her field. She has been offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apply her research interests in practice, an opportunity that is unfortunately not available in South Africa,” Rawbone-Viljoen said.

Kruger said she was proud to be leaving Elgin Vintners in a positive state, with a healthy wine business, the wine portfolio clearly differentiated into brand tiers, and business systems in place.

Innovations introduced under her watch include the Fynbos Lite range of premium canned wines and the highly successful Belle Amie Merlot Blanc de Noir, the Cloud Haven wines while she has also raised the profile of the hand-crafted site-specific range, including the introduction of Mirra Semillon.

While the awards won over the past four years are many, she said she was most proud of Elgin Vintners Sauvignon Blanc 2021 being named a Top 12 Sauvignon Blanc in the world by the UK Drinks Business magazine last year, and Elgin Vintners Pinot Noir making the Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir rankings for both the 2019 and 2020 vintages.

Exports have grown to about 70% of wine sales to markets including the USA, UK, Ireland, The Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Japan, and China, leading to turnover more than doubling even through the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The wine business is complemented by the upgraded Elgin Vintners Country House offering luxury getaways for couples and groups, spa treatments, planning and hosting of weddings, personal and corporate special events, and regular wine-themed public events with a new tasting room.

“The Elgin Valley, with its unique terroir has made great strides in winemaking in the past decade or so and is now recognised as a premium winemaking region. The combination of superior vineyards and relative youth of the area in winemaking terms invites innovation and an adventurous spirit, along with sharp business acumen.

“We are looking for someone to work with an established team and track record, to build off a very strong base and bring their own flair and signature to the business. Our vision is to build on the success of the past four years and particularly to drive export growth, everything is ready and geared for that,” Rawbone-Viljoen said.

He added that equity in the business was an option to be explored with the successful candidate, rewarding performance, and giving them a personal stake in the success of Elgin Vintners.

A winemaking qualification, with winemaking experience and proven experience in international wine markets, is required, along with high-level management, conceptual and interpersonal skills.

Applications for the position should be sent, with a CV and references to HR practitioner Van Zyl Visser at van12@telkomsa.net