At Haute Cabrière, second-generation Von Arnims Takuan and Tanja reveal to EMILE JOUBERT what it’s like to step into the shoes of parents who have wine in their veins.
Ant families of the wine world ascribe their generational involvement with vineyards and wine to the grape’s elixir being ‘a way of life’ for them. But experiencing the second flight of Franschhoek’s Von Arnim clan now running its Haute Cabrière estate, one can firmly state that for this renowned part of Cape Winelands family DNA, wine is not just a ‘way’, but life itself. The Von Arnims’ blood, sweat and toil, their hopes and dreams, the very essence of their being is driven by the wine they create.
Takuan, the second-generation Von Arnim to take control of the winery his father carved into the mountain outside Franschhoek, exudes the kind of authoritative yet casual confidence of a winemaker who is in tune with his destiny. And why shouldn’t he? He is, after all, the son of Achim von Arnim, one of the last of South Africa’s great living wine pioneers.
Since returning to South Africa in 2004 after a five-year jaunt through the vineyards of Europe and becoming cellar master in 2012, Takuan has taken the Haute Cabrière brand, which includes the range of Pierre Jourdan Cap Classiques his father began mak- ing in 1984, on a new trajectory. There is a wine range called the Haute Collection that carries Takuan’s individual style, including Chardonnay aged in clay amphora vessels. And, of course, he is committed to continuing the legacy on which Haute Cabrière was built: the Pierre Jourdan Cap Classiques and other stalwart still wines, such as the stratospherically successful Chardonnay/Pinot Noir.
Takuan smiles and shakes his head when asked that predictable question: how tough an act is it to follow in the footsteps of your father, Achim? “You have no idea,” he admits. “My father was a pioneer in the Cape wine industry, the second to make Cap Classique. Then with Haute Cabrière, which he bought in 1982, he created the first winery in the country solely committed to Cap Classique. Without a penny in the bank, he took risks, pioneered, led. Built the business into a major success, and did it with style, personality, enthusiasm. Yes indeed, a tough act to follow.”
But there is nothing like confidence in your ability to step out and find your own place in the world, especially this world of wine. “With what we are now doing at Haute Cabrière, I can honestly say that during my life as son of one of the country’s great winemakers and personalities – from a child growing up in the house and then working alongside my father in the cellar – I am showing that I paid at- tention. I took in what I saw about crafting wine and growing grapes, I listened to the technical details and the rules and the laws and the instructions. I was present, I took it in. And now I can do this.”
Before meeting Takuan, I spend a few hours with Achim at the house he and his wife, Hildegard, share below the Haute Cabrière cellar. I am trying to get an inside edge on families of winemakers and the importance of generational evolution in wine, but Achim was more interested in letting the current wines do the talking: a brilliant Sémillon in Takuan’s Haute Collection, also aged in clay amphorae; the Haute Cabrière un- wooded Chardonnay, as austere and stony and rapier-precise as a Chablis; and an energetic, life-affirming Pierre Jourdan Brut Cap Classique, just to wash the palate.
“Have you tasted?” says Achim. “Unbelievable! Takuan is brilliant in the cellar, and I must say he works his pants off. He is doing an exceptionally good job – and he has a truly pioneering spirit.”
“Like his father?” I ask.
“Perhaps,” says Achim. “But then, I have better looks.”
Looks aside, patriarchs surely can’t come much more inspirational and influential than Achim. On creating a successful wine brand and winery in just under 40 years, he draws on two aspects. One is discipline and a systematic approach. “First of all, with wine you have to know what you are dealing with and wine is not ‘made’, it’s grown or crafted,” he enthuses. “Although there’s an image of me as a gung-ho individualist, I have always loved the fact that with everything you do in the industry, it is about people in various disciplines coming together to pool their knowledge and their vision towards a shared outcome: discussion … decision … action … control!”
Achim is equally keen to highlight the other contribution of the human element to the crafting of wine. “Authenticity and originality,” he says. “I think that’s another aspect that helped Haute Cabrière and its wines to capture the imagination of the consumers. We have always been authentic. My late mother, Theodora, was part of the team from the start, helping with hospitality and the bookkeeping. Hildegard, between raising our children, played an integral role behind the scenes with entertaining, telling our story, doing wine tastings and tours, and establishing relationships with customers. We were and are authentic. And during everything, no matter what, we had fun.”
It was not only Achim who passed a strong wine lineage on to the second generation of Von Arnims active on Haute Cabrière. Takuan and Tanja’s mother hails from a farm in Germany’s Mosel wine region and she recalls all the adults of her family working in the vineyards in spring. “We children would play be- tween the vines or along the adjacent roads. I was about nine or 10 when I watched my mother binding the shoots on the vines and told her that I was sure I could do that. She let me give it a go and that was that, I started working in the vineyards as a child.”
Not surprisingly, after arriving in the Cape in 1971, having just married Achim in Germany, Hildegard said she would not be getting involved with winemaking as she had already had her fill. She has, however, been the driver of Cabrière’s spirit of hospitality that has been entrenched in the values of the estate from the beginning.
“Mum is very much the unsung hero of Haute Cabrière,” says Tanja, who this year joined the team as marketing director. “She still does cellar tours and wine tastings, and much of the ethos of Haute Cabrière as a centre of wine, food and friendship was established by her.” Complementing Takuan’s position of leading the wine operations, Tanja is responsible for ensuring the Von Arnim legacy continues in the important department of market- ing and hospitality. “I joined the family business now because of the extraordinary journey Haute Cabrière has taken and the vast possibilities for the future. It is exciting to help shape that vision as part of the second generation. We aim to position the brand through the experience people have at Haute Cabrière,” she says. “Takuan is responsible for creating these incredible wines. I have to make sure that all facets of hospitality are integrated with the wine in offering a unique experience people want to return to.”
Takuan is quick to add a word his father is particularly partial to: “Fun – the whole Cabrière experience must have an element of fun. And celebration. Isn’t that why people and wine are made for each other?”
Yes, especially people made for enriching the world through the essence of wine they have captured in their soul. We are so lucky to have them.