Multiple award-winning winemaker Charles Williams is the current Cellar Master at De Toren Private Cellar, a key position that he has held since 2019. But his history with the renowned Stellenbosch estate goes back much further than that.
Williams first joined the De Toren team 11 years earlier, back in 2008, when he was fresh out of college. He had completed a BSc Agri degree in Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Stellenbosch, followed by postgraduate studies in Viticulture. “I particularly loved viticulture and found that it came very naturally to me,” he explains.
This is no small wonder, considering that he grew up in the small farming community of Kakamas in the Northern Cape, in a close-knit family of five. “Growing up, I always loved the outdoors, spending most of my weekends and student holidays on our family farm,” says Williams.
This background in farming and love for the land is one of the reasons Williams accepted a role at De Toren. The promising young student had caught the eye of De Toren’s head winemaker at the time, Albie Koch (who is now Managing Partner of the estate), who had approached Williams to join the team as Assistant Winemaker.
“Of course, I had to accept! Although, back then, I did have some reservations about the direction into winemaking, seeing that viticulture was my first love. But those reservations were extremely short-lived. De Toren had a very ‘vineyard orientated’ approach to winemaking, which resonated extremely well with my views.”
Williams’ belief is to grow the most perfect, complex berries. By studying nature acutely, his aspiration is to guide each vine towards growing optimal grapes, by giving special attention to the vines as and when needed. Armed with this philosophy and the support of the De Toren team, Williams thrived under the mentorship of Koch, and worked his way up to the role of Head Winemaker in 2011. He was then promoted to the position of Cellar Master in 2019.
“Being a Winemaker and now Cellar Master, has actually elevated my love for wine, vineyards and soils to a whole different level,” he states. “I am always amazed to see how the work done in our vineyards comes to life in our splendid Bordeaux-style blends at the very end of our production cycle.”
Williams’ role as Cellar Master entails looking at the quality and sustainability of De Toren’s soils, vines and wine. It is a position that allows for strategic thinking and creative planning. It also touches on marketing, logistics and the financial aspects of the business. “But the best part is that I manage the practical aspects that come with farming and winemaking,” he says. These include the complete shift towards organic agriculture initiated in 2016.
“We had to work incredibly hard to keep the plants healthy and counteract any possible pesticides. Now, three years later, initial plans are manifesting and positive results are starting to appear and we couldn’t be more amazed!”
Williams describes the highlights of his time at De Toren as small battles won on a seasonal basis – “when you have to make tough calls while predicting what Mother Nature will throw at you and you get it right… That is where true craftsmanship is to be found.”
Williams’ research, planning and execution come together in stellar wines that reflect the extreme care that goes into their making. All De Toren wines perform at the highest level on the global stage, year after year. The Bordeaux styled blends are considered among the world’s best. In 2020 alone, the wines have consistently ranked between 91 and 95 points (out of a possible 100) in reviews by the USA’s respected Wine Enthusiast Magazine, the UK’s foremost wine critic Tim Atkin, and South Africa’s Platter’s Wine Guide. But Williams does admit to having a few favourites among this outstanding offering.
“The De Toren Fusion V 2009 was my very first vintage and remains a superb wine. The De Toren Z Decade is a 100% Merlot release and I absolutely love this wine. I would also include the De Toren Fusion V 2016, more from a reflective point of view, considering how hard it was to create such a balanced wine that is full of finesse, in quite challenging climatic conditions (it was a time of major drought in the Western Cape). Book XVII and The Black Lion 2017 are both amazing – I truly believe that these two wines accurately tell the story of the vintage. Last, but definitely not least, is the De Toren Z 2017 Director’s Reserve, a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc. On the whole, I love both our De Toren Z and De Toren Fusion V wines – and it is especially intriguing how they work in synergy.”
Wine lovers can discover this synergy for themselves, and learn more about De Toren’s approach to winemaking, by accessing a full tasting experience hosted by Williams via De Toren’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF9sb4BYhXSnvocD00PXtew. You can also watch individual tastings on specific wines. Better yet, the estate welcomes guests for on-site tastings, vineyard and cellar tours and wine sales.