Pieter “Mr Bubbles” Ferreira has been synonymous with sparkling wine for almost 3 decades after joining Graham Beck in 1990 to what has become one of South Africa’s prestige sparkling wine producers.
We had the great privilege of asking him 5 Questions.
Firstly, thank you for being the driving force behind delighting us with bubbles and great wines for almost 3 decades and congratulations with all your various awards. Cheers!
It was announced late last year that Graham Beck will be focusing on the Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) and not on producing a larger selection of wines. What were the main influences behind this decision?
I am delighted to have come this far and to build up the reputations as Mr “Bubbles” in the industry. I have been fortunate to specialize in Cap Classique for so long – 7 years at Pierre Jourdan and now starting year 28 at Graham Beck. Remarkable if I may say so, myself!
After some ‘soul’ searching and understanding the consumer better, we realized that Graham Beck was always going to be known for our Cap Classiques. When Graham Beck was still alive he always reminded us that “you cannot be everything to everyone” and “if you want to be better at what you do, best you need to focus”. Bubbly production has been my life and being a specialist, it was time to get the side shows out of the way and focus!
You also get to a critical mass in production: if you want to grow and improve on quality you need to be a specialist. Cap Classique is also the most vibrant wine category with a year-on-year growth of 15% and we have built a beautiful following and have created good brand recognition and loyalty. So actually a “no-brainer” for us!
Further congratulations on leading the way in sun harvesting by wine farms by installing about 2 400sqm of solar panels at Graham Beck in November last year. Could you give us a summary of how the installation of the solar panels has influenced the farm?
And secondly, some of the most common found skepticism in terms of solar systems is that the projected figures will not materialise. What has been your experience thus far?
340 000kWh electricity has been generated since January this year. If we generate more electricity than the actual demand from cellars, the excess electricity is consumed by other farm activities such and water pumps etc.
At Graham Beck we proud ourselves of having a sustainable approach to business.
We loved the idea of renewable energy, especially solar power as we are situated in Robertson (‘there is only one son and it is Robertson’), which means we have a very efficient chance of generating electricity from solar panels. This has helped tremendously to make our electricity cheaper.
As most municipalities and other suppliers of electricity is not really geared to take electricity back into the grid we have opted to generate sufficient energy for the cellar and farm that keeps us off the grid by day. In the evenings our demands are less and then we take from the grid.
Knowing what our investment would be made our calculations and we are happy with our current situation.
Our projected electricity cost saving after six months: we are 16% ahead of projected yearly Rand value. The savings calculation was made on 8% increase in electricity price per year. This is a very conservative figure which helps to keep skepticism under control.
It is yet too soon to experience any other projected figures like guaranteed life time, etc.
You are quite the world traveler and it is wonderful following your journeys to the exciting wineries across the globe. Over the years, you must have witnessed the effect of global warming on Graham Beck’s farm in Robertson as well as around the world.
How, in your view, is global warming affecting the international agricultural landscape and is SA different to other countries in this regard?
For sure, global warming is a huge threat and a reality in agriculture – FULL STOP. Wherever I travel this is a ‘hot’ topic (excuse the pun). It’s a worldwide problem affecting more and more countries.
I don’t think South Africa is that different but we are definitely more aware of the fact and the consequences, as you must remember that we are already farming in semi-arid conditions. Robertson’s annual rainfall is only about 250mm per year, which is very little.
Our approach, therefore, is more scientific while the rest of the world (including other parts of the Western Cape) is still catching up and making sense of how it effects agriculture. It is an observation that winemakers from afar and across the world do call South African winemakers in extreme hot years to learn what and how to do acidity adjustments to wine! This is happening more and more, it’s true!
I do believe that global warming will become more severe as water resources ‘dry-up’. This will be the challenge going forward.
To be a bubble and wine maker (and drinker!) and international traveler is definitely one of the most coveted jobs in the world. Yet, it is not all fun and games and there is a serious business end to balancing the absolute uncertainty of nature, the science of wine making and the expectation of the internationally renowned Graham Beck to retain its successful position it has worked hard for over the years.
What are some of your key secrets to finding the equilibrium over the long term and what advice do you have for aspiring young people who have starry-eyed ambitions in this field?
You are right to say that every day brings its own challenges and that you don’t always just smell the roses!
Winemaking is so much fun, but it does come with a whole set of challenges. Consistency and continuity is pivotal in retaining success and being the market leader. They might sound like old clichés but “you’re only as good as the people you employ” and “knowledge is power” are my two great pillars or mantras of success. Take note of this advice!
Then you also have to love what you do and don’t put a timeline to it. Focus on the job at hand and never say, “Ja, I will do that tomorrow!”.
In winemaking it could be a day too late. Specialize, specialize!
You have a wonderful art collection in the Graham Beck tasting centre. What are some of your other loves and delights in addition to bubbly and family?
We are extremely fortunate that the Beck Family Trust has such impressive art selection and that they willingly share it with visitors in our tasting room in Robertson.
I am also blessed with a fabulous family and it is rather a tough balancing act: to find enough time to enjoy family time! I love cooking (learnt from my all-aspiring wife, Ann), when I have the time and we entertain at home.
Then I am a weekend ‘warrior’ and like to cycle on some MTB tracks or route around Franschhoek. Fishing is very relaxing but I don’t always enough time for it. We have a beach house in Pearly Beach that makes up and recharges the ‘batteries’.
Copyright © 2017 by Natalie du Preez.
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