Ken Forrester, 48, is the winemaker at his own eponymous winery in Stellenbosch, where he currently produces around 110,000 cases a year, of which about 10 percent is exported to the United States. He's worked hard over the years to replant and restore his nearly 99-acre vineyard, which has served as farmland of some sort since the late 1600s. While some South African vintners are now concentrating on various red varieties and blends, Forrester remains committed to showing off South Africa's already proven potential to produce high-quality Chenin Blanc. His wines were even served at Nelson Mandela's 85th birthday party. But Forrester is also an epicurean, having found his love for wine while working in the restaurant business. Today, along with his winery, Forrester is also co-owner of 96 Winery Road Restaurant, also in Stellenbosch.
Wine Spectator: What was your first vintage?
Ken Forrester: My first vintage was 1994 with the aid of Mike Dobrovic [of Mulderbosch]. We fermented 12 barrels of Sauvignon Blanc from the vineyard I had just bought--126 acres in total and just 400 cases!
WS: What other wineries have you worked at?
KF: I've worked in the Loire valley with Bernard Germain at Château de Fesles.
WS: What got you interested in being a winemaker?
KF: I started out in hotel management and then went into a restaurant venture, using wine as a marketing tool. We had approximately 200 bins on our list and a walk-in cellar--way back in 1982.
WS: Who has been your biggest influence as a winemaker?
KF: Martin Meinert of the eponymous vineyard has always been my guiding light. After all, he set up and established Vergelegen as the premier South African winery. He's a highly talented individual whose credo is "balance."
WS: You're one of a growing handful of South African producers committed to Chenin Blanc. What is it about the grape that you like?
KF: Chenin is, in my mind, the greatest white grape on Earth. It is versatile and so quiet and shy that most often it is misunderstood. Yet when clearly briefed and exposed to the right amount of soft sunlight, it produces wines that sing! Truly a perplexing grape but oh, so rewarding!
WS: What's your favorite food pairing with Chenin Blanc?
KF: Hmmm this is tricky ... That could be foie gras or guinea fowl cooked with Chenin and raisins. Or one of the bravest is pot-roast neck of pork marinated with vanilla pods and Chenin.
WS: What's your favorite wine other than your own?
KF: Châteauneuf-du-Pape from a great year and a good grower. I just love the red-fruit intensity of Grenache and the sweet-and-sour cherry ripeness coupled with the spicy cinnamon, nutmeg notes. Without a doubt, the sexiest wine, reminiscent of a raven-haired buxom gypsy!
WS: If you could be one other person in the wine business for one day, who would it be, and why?
KF: Now that's a real trick question. Hmm ... I think I would want to be just who I am. I love the lifestyle, the vineyard is a constant companion and challenge, the market offers so many opportunities and the work in the cellar is always fascinatingly on the brink of making a wine that blows you away. Life is so exciting ... who would want to change this?
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