Marlene Bester, award-winning Master Distiller at Van Ryn’s Brandy Distillery in Stellenbosch, chats to CTE.com about this meticulous craft.
What does your role as Master Distiller at Van Ryn’s entail?
I’m responsible for all quality control, starting from when the base wine arrives, throughout the distillation and maturation processes, to when the final matured product is taken out of the barrels and bottled. I’m involved in the blending of our world renowned Van Ryn’s brandies, an intricate process as we need to ensure quality and consistency. I also manage the distillation and maturation schedules to ensure we have a steady supply of brandy to match sales forecasts.
What are the characteristics needed for a person in your position?
You have to know how to work with people and empower them so that they give their best effort. Knowledge of the distillation process is essential; what makes a good brandy and how to mature it to get an excellent brandy. You need a good nose and palate to determine the quality of your product during distillation and maturation. Last, but definitely not least, you need to be able to identify the best matured spirits and how to blend them together so that you get a brandy that is better than its building blocks on their own.
As it stands, what is the status of the South African brandy industry?
South Africa is the world’s seventh largest producer of grape-based brandy. Ninety-two percent of South Africa’s production is consumed locally with a small, growing footprint, mainly into African markets. As word gets out about the quality and international reputation of our brandies, we are winning new fans in the premium potstill category and are seeing encouraging growth in sales.
What are the standout qualities of Van Ryn’s brandies that make it the award-winning brand it is?
One of our standout qualities is that we keep building on our founder Jan van Ryn’s philosophy of excellence in maturation. We produce relatively small quantities of brandy; everything is done by hand with attention to detail to keep our standards high.
What’s your biggest challenge?
The challenge is educating consumers and changing their mindset. People think that brandy is something to mix with Coke, and don’t realise there’re other styles, such as our potstill and Vintage brandies, which should be enjoyed neat, on ice or with a dash of water.
If I see people enjoying Van Ryn’s brandies, I know I’ve done a good job. Van Ryn’s Distillery 15 year old Fine Cask Reserve won the 2014 International Spirits Challenge trophy for Best Worldwide Brandy for the second time since 2010 – receiving this trophy is one of the best rewards any master distiller can wish for as it confirms you’re doing the right thing. I get to live my dream of making the best brandies every day.
Where Van Ryn’s Distillery, Van Ryn Road, Vlottenburg, Stellenbosch
Tasting times Monday to Friday, 9 am – 5:30 pm; Saturday, 9 am – 3:30 pm; Sunday, 11 am – 3:30 pm
Contact +27 21 881 3875, www.vanryn.co.za