Women winemakers compete and perform shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts, and therefore the SA Women’s Wine & Spirit Awards decided to crown the Woman Winemaker of the Year in 2021. Salome Buys-Vermeulen from Lozärn Wines is the well-deserved trophy winner this year.
We asked Salome a few questions to find out more about this remarkable woman.
Where did you grow up, and what made you go into winemaking?
I was born in Nelspruit and grew up in Mossel Bay, with fond memories.
A few things lead to my decision, but it must be the first impression of my Agriculture class in grade 8. It was either agriculture or typing, so I thought to myself – “I think planting vegetables during school time sounds like a lot more fun.”
My love to understand the science in nature and how it all works together just grew. When my oldest brother started his studies at Stellenbosch. One of his friends at the time grew up on a wine farm. I fondly remember each and every wine story that followed each visit; therefore my parents encouraged me to follow my dream and always made me believe I can do anything if I put my mind to it. Winemaking has quite a few facets and consists of different layers to create something so enjoyable, which makes it always interesting and never the same.
Where did you study, and where did you work before Lozärn Wines?
I finished my Degree in B Agric. (Cellar Technology) at Elsenburg in 2008.
A few weeks after my final exam at Elsenburg, I started working at Saronsberg, Tulbagh.
First I was in the vineyards prepping for harvest (summer canopy management) and later during harvest in the cellar under the watchful eyes of Dewaldt Heyns and David Sadie. It was my first glimpse at precision and quality.
In 2010 I joined Ormonde Private Cellar in Darling for 2 years. I was the vineyard manager. It was the perfect learning school for me to work with bush vines and dry land vineyards. I also had the opportunity to do a New Zealand harvest with my husband during that time, a fantastic experience to taste some of the best Sauvignon’s and Pinot Grigio wines.
In 2012 a new venture awaited us here at Doornbosch farm in Bonnievale which is the home of Lozärn Wines today. While still getting all our ducks in a row on the farm I helped Lourens van der Westhuizen at Arendsig for the 2013 vintage, while also making a bit of Shiraz on Doornbosch, in the most primitive way…. by 2014 my husband Sybrand had a fully functional cellar in place for me and the first harvest was realised. After a few trial and errors, getting to know the terroir and new plantings Lozärn wines were launched in 2017.
On the difference between men and women: “The biggest thing must be physical strength. Everything else women can do just as well as men can.”
Who played a vital role in you becoming a well-rounded winemaker, and why?
Each person that I worked alongside taught me a great deal with regard to winemaking and viticulture. I have the privilege of working every day with a true gentleman of note, Grant Hamilton Smuts (Owner of Lozärn Wines) a walking encyclopaedia of knowledge who always allows me to dream and experiment, coupled with my parents that always encourage me. I am truly blessed!
What is the secret to your success?
I am humbled that you see me in this light. There is not a day that passes that I do not learn, and every morning I consciously start again. It’s never just done.
Work hard, find a way to solve the day’s challenges, learn something new, and dream big every day. It’s an everyday thing, to make sure you grow and move forward.
How is it different being a female in a male-dominated industry?
The biggest thing must be physical strength. Everything else women can do just as well as men can. It’s about planning and willingness to learn from the ones that cross your path.
Are there any vinicultural practices that differentiate you from the rest?
I suppose we all want to believe we do something different and special. The truth is the soil is the first and ultimate step in choosing the best terroir. Then I work as clean and as little as possible with my wines during their aging stages.
What role do you think your terroir at Lozärn Wines plays?
Terroir is the cornerstone for us at Lozärn. We had a clear vision from the start. We want to focus on Bordeaux red cultivars since Bonnievale has cool nights and breezes during summer. So the journey began to identify the best possible soil to plant each of the six Bordeaux cultivars, including our beloved Carménère.
The different soil profiles you can obtain in every few hectares, making it possible to choose more specifically and showcase each cultivars best potential.
We try and do as much manipulation already in the vines, during pruning and summer canopy management, meaning that when it comes to the cellar it is healthy fruit we start off with, and as little as possible additions are needed. Soil health is so important and ultimately enhances the terroir’s best characteristics.