Marc Kent, 35, is winemaker for and partner in South Africa's Boekenhoutskloof winery. The winery, which Kent helped found along with his partners in 1996, is located in the Franschhoek foothills. The winery produced 125,000 cases in the 2006 vintage, of which 25,000 are earmarked for the U.S. market. This includes both the main label, along with the Chocolate Block and Wolftrap red blends and value-priced Porcupine Ridge wines.
Kent is part of a rising tide of young, energetic winemakers in South Africa who are focusing on producing small lots of high quality Syrah and other Rhône varietals. The affable winemaker is a Syrah lover, and an avowed Rhône wine fan who fashions his Syrah in a beefy, olive- and tobacco-filled style. In addition to his Syrah, Kent has shown he can be mainstream as well, earning high marks for his Franschhoek Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wine Spectator: What got you interested in the wine business?
Marc Kent: I was waiting tables in a restaurant called the Black Marlin, near Cape Point. The owner, Gerald Ludwinski, was an extremely knowledgeable and generous wine enthusiast. He shared many bottles of "the greats." By age 22 I had tasted many vintages of all the first-growths, DRC, Pétrus and particularly lots of Mosel wines from Prüm, Müller, Fritz Haag … I was hooked. Without him, I doubt I would be making wine today.
WS: What other wineries have you worked at?
MK: Boekenhoutskloof is the only one. In my first vintage, 1996, I produced a total of 500 cases.
WS: Who has been your biggest influence in the wine business?
MK: Tim Rands, owner of Vinimark, South Africa's largest privately owned wine distributor, and business partner of mine. Tim has kept the wine business real; while a keen consumer, he does not get carried away with emotion and labels.
WS: You are one of a growing number of winemakers in South Africa focusing on Syrah. What is it about the grape that draws you to it?
MK: Ever since my first tasting of Guigal's top wines, along with various visits to the Northern Rhône, I have strived to make the best Syrah in South Africa. Cornas is a favorite; I love its rusticity. Some of my favorite Cornas producers are Auguste Clape, Alain Voge, Thierry Allemand and Robert Michel.
WS: What's your favorite food pairing with your Syrah?
MK: I seldom drink my own wine, and food-and-wine pairing is not something I deliberately emphasize. I'd probably enjoy it with an aromatic Asian duck dish. In fairness, I'll enjoy that with most wines!
WS: What's your favorite wine, other than your own?
MK: No question, Château Haut-Brion. If only I could afford to drink it more often. Perhaps one day when I'm big!
WS: If you could be one other person in the wine business for one day, who would it be, and why?
MK: Richard Sands [CEO of Constellation Brands, the world's largest wine-producing company]. I had the privilege of meeting and chatting with him a few years ago and was inspired. Too many of us are driven by the emotional side of the wine business. Clearly he understands that good distribution and presence on shelf are precursors to the success of any wine brand. I would like to learn more from him; I would need a lot more than a day though!