Rudi Schultz, 37, is part of South Africa's new generation of driven young winemakers. A home-schooled graduate of Stellenbosch's Elsenberg Agricultural College, Schultz has also traveled the world. He worked at Sonoma-Cutrer in California and Château Joanny in France's Southern Rhône Valley before returning to the Cape full time. In South Africa, Schultz worked at the Rustenberg and Jordan (known in the United States as Jardin) wineries, before joining Thelema in 2000, where he works alongside one of the deans of Cape winemakers, Gyles Webb.
Like many of his contemporaries, Schultz also has a small side project, an eponymous label focused on Syrah, which has emerged as South Africa's top red varietal. The wine, which debuted with the 2002 vintage, is sourced from a small vineyard in the Bottelary ward, a warm spot in the northwest corner of the well-known Stellenbosch district. Winemaking runs in the family too—both of Schultz' brothers are winemakers, at Stellenbosch's Hartenberg and Delaire wineries. His brother-in-law is David Finlayson, winemaker at Glen Carlou.
Wine Spectator: What got you interested in being a winemaker?
Rudi Schultz: I was delivering a yacht from Cape Town to North Carolina, and I got to taste a few fantastic Northern Rhône reds from the cellar on the boat, with the yacht owner's permission of course!
WS: Who have been your biggest influences as a winemaker?
RS: Walter Finlayson of Glen Carlou [David's father]. I met David at Elsenburg College during our studies. Walter was then still owner of Glen Carlou and the cellar master/winemaker at the time. This was the first cellar I spent time at as a student with limited wine knowledge. During harvest I visited there and Walter always seemed to impart wisdom regarding his winemaking philosophy to myself and David.
WS: Why has Syrah come on so strong, so quickly in the Cape? Is it the key to South Africa's wine future (for reds)?
RS: Syrah seems to reflect its terroir strongly if planted in the right soils/terrain. But in the wrong site and with high cropping levels it fades into mediocrity. I believe we can and do make a good many superpremium Syrahs, but South Africa also makes stunning red blends, Cabernet Sauvignons and a few top Merlots. Great Syrah will always be appreciated worldwide. It's not the future but a big piece in our puzzle.
WS: What is it about South Africa that you like?
RS: South Africa is a beautiful country with fantastic people, nature and beaches.
WS: And that you wish you could change?
RS: Crime and poverty, without these two this would be the best place on earth.
WS: What is your favorite food pairing with your own Rudi Schultz Syrah? And with the Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon?
RS: With my own Syrah, I like a mature, rare kudu sirloin with Madagascar green pepper sauce. With Thelema's Cab, game topped with a slab of foie gras.
WS: What is your favorite wine, other than one of your own?
RS: The most recent stunner I tasted was the 2005 Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough.
WS: If you could be one other person in the wine business for one day, who would it be, and why?
RS: For one day, it would be Michael, my 5-year-old son, who is aspiring to be a winemaker. Imagine how winemaking will have developed in 10 years!
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