Samuel Viljoen spent most of his youth far from vineyards – initially in the Kalahari, where his father worked as a dominee (minister) and then in Bredasdorp near the southernmost point of Africa. His grandfather however, farmed grapes near Rawsonville and this was a connection that first led his brother Kobie and then him to study winemaking.
After Matric in 1998, he registered for the Bachelor of Science degree programme at the University of Stellenbosch, specialising in oenology and viticulture. His career path saw him work a three-year stint at Goudini winery as well as a harvest at Domaine Serene in Oregon.
He was appointed as assistant red winemaker at Nederburg in 2007 before his promotion to full responsibility for the division at the Paarl winery seven years later.
For him, the passion for his job comes from the social significance of wine. "It gives me such a great feeling when wine-lovers tell me about the Nederburg wine they served to announce an engagement, to toast a birthday, to honour old friends or new ones, to celebrate a new job or a rite of passage," he says. "I feel proud and humbled at the same time."
He and his team are keenly aware of the pursuit of maintaining and elevating a high standard. It is a unifying force in the vineyards and cellar. "We are like a band of brothers who spend more time with each other than with our families," he declares.
Focus is also an essential component when you're involved with as many as 30 grape varieties at a time, says Samuel. "You have to be very analytical but also learn to trust your intuition and your taste buds. You need both structure and flexibility.
"You must be able to enjoy making minute quantities of special collectable wines and on the same day, switch to making popular wines for global markets, and you must feel at home creating classical but also original, very different wines."