Alto’s Schalk van der Westhuizen retires after 15 vintages
He is a man of few words and prefers his wines to do the talking, of which they do extremely well. Winemaker Schalk van der Westhuizen has, for 15 vintages, produced award-winning wines at Alto, but all good things come to an end, as the saying goes. On June 30, 2015 this tall, quiet and unassuming man will hand over the reins to his successor, his son Bertho, but only after father and son have spent two months working together on this well-known wine estate.
No farewell is ever easy, and nor is this one, neither for Alto nor Schalk. This native of Stellenbosch has wine in his veins. He was born on Neethlingshof outside Stellenbosch in 1953 where his father was the manager for 30 years. His school years were spent at the Paul Roos Primary School and later at the Paul Roos Gymnasium after which he obtained a diploma in viticulture and fruit growing at the Elsenburg Agricultural College.
In 1973 he took over the reins as winemaker and manager from his father at Neethlingshof and in 2000 he was appointed wine maker at Alto in the so-called Golden Triangle. From the outset Schalk made an impact, not only at Alto but also in the wine industry as a whole. He received his first award in 2003 when his Alto Shiraz 2001 took gold at the authoritative Decanter World Wine Awards, and many followed.
Schalk celebrated his first decade at Alto with the introduction of the estate’s flagship wine, the Alto MPHS 2007, a blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. The name MPHS represents the initials of the estate’s first four winemakers, Manie Malan, Piet du Toit, Hempies du Toit and Schalk van der Westhuizen.
Asked how he felt about his retirement, Schalk just shrugged and said: “It’s not easy. There’s a lot of me here at Alto – laughter, sweat, and tears, but mainly laughter. I’m going to miss the vineyards, the cellar, the people, and the views”
“Hopefully there are people new to the wine industry that can benefit from my knowledge and experience, and I can be of some assistance to Bertho from time to time.”
Schalk says the fact that his son has taken over the reins from him makes the parting somewhat easier, “but it still feels like a final farewell to a loved one, and that’s never easy”. He admits he is leaving Alto’s vineyards and cellar in good hands, but it is going to be some time before this award-winning wine estate is out of his system.
Schalk says he was very fortunate to spend his whole professional life working with the best fruit from the best vineyards from the best soils. “Alto, for example, lies in an area which is well-known for producing exceptional red wines. I have always only taken what the earth offered and tried to make the best of it. The awards were a welcome bonus.”
Schalk and his wife Esré will retire to Somerset West. Their four grandchildren and his favourite destinations like the Kruger National Park and the Kalahari will make his retirement easier and more enjoyable.
Alto wine estate is situated on the Annandale Road off the R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West.
Alto is part of Cape Legends, a collection of superlative quality, award-winning wines from several boutique estates situated in and around the Cape Winelands. For more information about Alto and its wines, visit www.alto.co.za, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 021 881 3884 or make contact on www.facebook.com/AltoWinery (or via Twitter @AltoWines)
The wines, available at retail outlets nationwide, are found on many restaurant wine lists and can also be delivered to your door when purchased online through the Vinotèque at this link: https://www.vinoteque.co.za/collections/alto.