WORDS: RICHARD HOLMES IMAGES: SUPPLIED
With 20 years in the cellar to her credit, Debbie Thompson was recently appointed as cellar master of acclaimed Stellenbosch estate Simonsig.
What was the ‘spark’ that led you into a career in winemaking? In 1996 I went to the University of Stellenbosch with the idea of becoming a vet. As a first-year student life is all about trying new things and experimenting. Being in the heart of one of the most beautiful wine-producing areas in the world, visiting wine farms and tasting a lot of great, and not-so-great, wines was certainly rated as one of our favoured “extracurricular” activities! Let’s just say veterinary science took a back seat.
My passion for winemaking really started to evolve when I began to work at Simonsig under the mentorship of Johan Malan (owner). I was thrown into the deep end and it was really a case of sink or swim!
What was it like for young female winemakers in the late 90s? How has the industry changed since then? It was a challenge and required working even harder to showcase your skills and abilities. In this day and age there’s a far more natural acceptance of female winemakers, where in the past the industry was almost entirely dominated by men. I’m happy to say that over the years that perception has changed and female winemakers are now a force to be reckoned with.
Twenty years at a single cellar is a long time in the wine industry… what’s kept you at Simonsig all these years? Diversity in our wine portfolio, new challenges and triumphs keep life interesting. The Malan family are pioneers; Johan’s work ethic and great ideas continue to inspire me and this has moulded and forged me and made me the winemaker I am today.
How daunting is it taking the reins of such an iconic family-owned winery? It’s a tremendous honour to be given the responsibility of being cellar master at Simonsig, especially as Simonsig and everyone who works there are like family to me. It’s a daunting task for sure and there’s little room for error, so the pressure is always on.
If you could make only one more wine in your career, what would it be? I choose pinotage because of its challenging and unpredictable nature and for the adrenaline rush I get while taming, crafting and sculpturing this unique South African varietal.
Simonsig Wine Estate
076 207 8930