Wines of Balkans blog

Romanian winemaker Razvan Macici made his name in South Africa

Written on 12-03-2012 by Dusan Jelic

Razvan Macici with his wines

I spoke recently with Razvan Macici in South Africa at Nederburg Wines in Paarl. He has three children. He wanted them to know that their father is from Romania. His mother and sister live in South Africa, and with them they often speak Romanian language. His wife is an Afrikaans speaker, but they usually communicate in English. Razvan's father Mihai Macici was a professor of viticulture and oenology in Romania.

He continued gently: "My father passed away in January 2010. He was a well-respected Romanian professor of viticulture and oenology and he was particularly supporting a production of noble late harvest dessert wines. He gave me strong support throughout and he was always against the Communist regime in Romania. He told me to learn English and French. While my friends were playing games, I kept on asking my parents why they force me to learn languages, since I won’t be travelling anywhere. Their usual response was: ‘please learn the languages, one day you will need that knowledge’. Of course, they were right. When I left Romania for South Africa, it was tough time in Romania, and my dad encouraged me to go out and explore other possibilities. He soon realized that I am happy here and he wholeheartedly supported me."

Razvan continued: “It is more than 20 years since I graduated from my University in Romania. The more places I see, it seems like a direct link to a certain place is less relevant. I am a Romanian and will always remain so; however it doesn’t stop me from feeling that South Africa is my home!"

"As from January 2001 I assumed a Cellar Master’s position at Nederburg, and I am still here. I have already 11 vintages under my belt and 2011 harvest is my 21st vintage overall." Razvan feels that when working for Nederburg you have to have a different philosophy. He further explains: "We produce some 50 different wines a year at all price levels, from the entry level to the Wine Master’s Reserve, Ingenuity or Private Bins range; namely from very commercial to the very boutique, hands-on wines. I have a team of 2 winemakers: one for white and one for red wines plus 2 assistants (for red and white wines). My team consists of 5 enthusiastic young people with the university degrees in winemaking, all of them from Stellenbosch and over 20 cellar assistants. We have a team of viticulturists and few farms under our management."

Razvan speaks in a greater detail about his philosophy: "When you make an entry level wine, you are in shoes of consumers, you try to understand what consumer likes and the wine should appeal to that target market, with upfront fruit and should be clean, soft and uncomplicated. When you move to wine linked to a specific terroir, I believe that good wine is made in the vineyard. I don’t try to force my own style. I rather cultivate what I get from the terroir itself. Wine-making is a simple exercise: you need to work with grapes you have; you should understand them and get the best out of them. For top wines, one has to understand terroir! I am in a close touch with my team and viticulturists, and we look for the best grapes. In the cellar we pay attention to every single detail. First have your basics covered and then we can talk about the philosophy. We painstakingly follow all steps, sorting, choice of wood etc. Nederburg is the most awarded winery in RSA, and this is achieved with the utmost attention being paid to the tiniest details."

Organic Wines

"We try to cover that area as well. We are spraying less and stubbornly cultivate protective environment. 2010 vintage, for instance, was difficult (in terms of diseases, downy mildews, due to wind and late rains) and our organic farms lost more than 50% of the crops. We’re taking a chance, and some would give up, because if bad weather repeats itself, the problems will continue. At the Nederburg cellar we dispose grape skins and pips, and we manage carbon footprint; we treat our affluent waters and am passionate about all these efforts of protecting environment. It includes also our biodiversity-related activities."

Pinotage as an iconic South African grape

"We produce a few Pinotages in different ranges. Pinotage is unique for South Africa, like Carménère for Chile, Malbec for Argentina or Tanat for Uruguay. I am very positive about Pinotage. I can see that our Pinotage is selling and it’s a comeback kid. It is a very versatile variety: you can produce rose, bubbles, light and fruity wines, full bodied wines etc. This is both an advantage and detrimental, since it can confuse a consumer. For instance, when buying Shiraz or Cab Sauvignon, you know what to expect; however when buying Pinotage, unless you know the producer, you may get something that you did not expect. Pinotage has some stylistic and identity issues to sort out. I prefer to think of Pinotage in a same fashion like when I make Pinot Noir: medium bodied, sweet fruit, soft tannins, accessible. We don’t make over-extracted, overripe Pinotage. In terms of terroir: cool climate is suitable for certain styles but they are some spectacular Pinotages in the warmer climate as well. I feel that a lot of past problems are solved and what is coming is getting better and better."

Nederburg Ingenuity Red and White Blends

"Blending is one of the most important steps in winemaking. When I make a blend I’m looking for the balance. Blending is very rewarding, and you will feel like an artist who has a canvass and different colours. Our classic Ingenuity red blend was made from Sangiovese, Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes. I like Super-Tuscans. Marchese Piero Antinori was a guest speaker at 2002 Nederburg Auction and I showed him Ingenuity red blend. His comment was great: ‘This is crazy, nobody would do that in Italy. I like it. You’re from the new world, so be innovative as you’re known for that.’

For Ingenuity white blend we used at least 8 different grapes: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Riesling, Nouvelle  (a crossing of Semillon and Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano), developed in South Africa by Professor CJ Orffer of Stellenbosch University) and Verdeho (or Gewürztraminer) with a subtle touch of Muscat de Frontenac. Ingenuity is a concept blend."

Razvan's thoughts on some white and red cultivars

Sauvignon blanc: value for money is the most important aspect. We can offer good wines at competitive prices. Sauvignon blanc is the best selling white wine. Chardonnay is coming back strongly with more balanced fruit and wood. I have great hopes for Riesling. We should cultivate it in the best locations with cool climate. Chenin blanc is promising. As a workhorse grape it was for so long considered as plonk. It is actually one of the most delicious wines to drink. Cabernet Sauvignon: it is and will remain a super brand: it is a great variety; consumers very easily recognize it and know what to expect. I feel it will not be shaken from the top spot any time soon. Shiraz: I believe it can do the best in South Africa and consumers love it. Australia, for instance, has problems with draught, so they are struggling with Shiraz. Pinot Noir: lot of hard work was invested and still we are not able to often produce great Pinot Noir wines. The climate is an issue, but I am hopeful about the future of Pinot Noir here. Merlot: needs a lot of attention at the vineyard’s face, to get nice flavours, nice tannins, (we don’t need green characters). This is very much a work in progress!

Sweet wines

In 1969 Günter Brozel created South Africa's first noble late harvest from botrytis-infected grapes. Nederburg Edelkeur (Chenin Blanc NLH) and Eminence (Muscat NLH) are top wines. Production of Edelkeur is only 1,000 litres. Our Noble late harvest wines received medals at any competition we entered them into. These are noble, very superior wines, very precious and rare. They are among the best natural sweet wines in the world, comparable with Tokaj or Cotnari dessert wines. The best food matches for these wines are foie gras (French for ‘fat liver’) or blue cheese. During the summer, various cheeses, ripe figs and walnuts served on a wooden board would constitute a gorgeous meal.

"My three kids are taking centre stages of my life as I am very family oriented person. I wanted to be a painter but I don’t believe I would have been a great painter, concluded Razvan Macici." Well, wine-making and wine-loving global fraternity is very happy indeed that Razvan Macici pursued a career in the wine industry!

As a consulting oenologist, Razvan recently joined Romanian producer Murfatlar. Cosmin Popescu, Murfatlar Romania director general stated: "This is a crucial moment for us. Our wish to have a press house dedicated exclusively to premium wines finally came through. This is more rewarding as it comes at the same time that a new oenologist, Razvan Macici, joined our team."

Razvan is now truly a global player making wines on two continents!