Mike Dobrovic, 50, is the winemaker at Mulderbosch, one of the few South African wineries with a substantial track record in the U.S. market. Its reputation has been built primarily on Sauvignon Blanc, though it also makes Chardonnay, Cabernet-based blends, Shiraz and Chenin Blanc. Dobrovic has been with Mulderbosch since the beginning. In 1989, he helped founder Larry Jacobs transform a run-down fruit farm in Stellenbosch into prime vineyards. Today, the winery is owned by Hydro Holdings and produces around 45,000 cases of wine a year, of which about 40 percent is exported to the United States. In 2002, Dobrovic also started his own label, called Sanctum, which specializes in cool-climate Syrah. In addition to being one of South Africa's most experienced vintners, Dobrovic is quite a character. He once said: "I find the busier I get, the more time seems to be available to do things. Just goes to show how much I can procrastinate."
WS: What got you interested in the wine business?
MD: I realized that, with a simple twist of the wrist, I could alter reality. And believe me, in Africa we often need to do that.
WS: Who has been your biggest influence in the wine business?
MD: There are so many people I would like to thank that it would take up a few pages. However, three people have profoundly influenced my methodology, and they are my old professor Joel van Wyk, Nicolas Vivas from the University of Bordeaux and Bruce Zoecklein from Virginia Tech. I have never met Zoecklein, but read his work avidly. All three have an amazing ability to understand the practical and chemical aspects of winemaking and, dare I say it, harmonize them. One can so easily implement their ideas and thoughts--unlike so many of the philosophers. Reminds me of the guy lost in a balloon who called down to a professor of physics below. He shouted, "Where are we?" and the professor answered, "You are in a balloon in the sky!" Now those are not the answers that these three men give.
WS: You're fond of quoting the poet Rumi. Tell us why you like his work so much.
MD: Rumi was a Persian Sufi mystic who ended up living in present-day Afghanistan. The Sufi philosophy is one of love and acceptance, non-judgmental. We can learn a lot from each other. I think that Rumi was able to transcend his humanity and was able to discover God within himself. Simply put, he realized how great a mystery people really are. His poems were quoted by the psychologists Carl Jung, Viktor Frankl and Erich Fromm, among others. The deep wisdom, inherent psychology and a great love of all that is life ensures that he remains the biggest-selling poet 600 years after his death.
WS: What's your favorite food pairing with your Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc?
MD: At the moment, it is winter [in South Africa] so a Thai prawn soup or a green fish curry is perfect with the Sauvignon.
WS: And with your Sanctum Syrah?
MD: The 2003 is becoming so sexy at the moment that I need my wife close by when I open a bottle, purely so that she won't get jealous. I like it with marinated venison--Cabernet and balsamic base for the marinade, and play around with some mushrooms, as these make the sauce so much richer. Don't be shy with onions, garlic and marjoram. Also try using some mutton--not lamb--fat to spear into the meat if it is very dry; that also adds a different flavor.
WS: What's your favorite wine, other than your own?
MD: Probably a Hunter's Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. In the better years, Hunter's gives me the depth on the palate and both tropical and grassy fruits that leave me utterly inebriated and very happy.
WS: If you could be one other person for one day, who would it be and why?
MD: I would like to be a purveyor of fine silks and cheeses, as I am sure that would grant me access to any cellar in the world. If I did not like the wine, I could eat the cheese and wrap myself in layers of silk to cushion the blows of frustrated tasting room staff! Especially if they have had to listen to my poetry!
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