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Taste makers | Chris Albrecht, Bouchard Finlayson

Chris Albrecht is the winemaker and cellar master at Bouchard Finlayson. This boutique South African winery makes some of the best pinot noir and chardonnay in the country. Chris explains how…

Chris Albrecht, Bouchard Finlayson

If you’ve ever stayed at a Red Carnation hotelThe Milestone, The Chesterfield, Ashford Castle, among others – then the chances are you may have tried a bottle of Bouchard Finlayson.

In each case, attention to detail and the finest quality are top of the agenda. This is no coincidence – as both are boutique propositions, and both are owned by the Tollman family of South Africa.

Bouchard Finlayson, on the outskirts of Cape Town, specialises in making French-style wines but with the added oomph of New World conditions.

So when it came to picking its winemaker, the family wanted to make sure they had someone with a mixture of French pedigree and South African sensibility.

Chris Albrecht was working in Bordeaux before he returned to his native South Africa to take up his new job at the vineyard. He had spent the harvest of 2009 in Lalande de Pomerol before landing the coveted role as assistant to the legendary Peter Finlayson the following year.

Learning directly from South Africa’s ‘pinot pioneer’, Albrecht’s contribution and knowledge grew over the years and, after the 2017 harvest, he was promoted to head of production.

His focus remains on pinot noir and chardonnay, which account for more than half of the plantings on the estate.

We caught up with Chris over a couple of glasses…

Chris Albrecht, Bouchard Finlayson

What was your first experience of wine?

I had the odd encounter during festive meals, both my fondest early memories include fellow care-free students on the lawns of Stellenbosch producers on a sunny Friday afternoon.

What was the first label or grape you tasted which really caught your attention?

I must’ve been about 19 years old when my father opened a Zonnebloem Pinotage from the 1986 vintage. I clearly remember the wine’s complexity, but its vibrancy grabbed my attention like nothing before.

When did you decide ‘I want to learn how to make this stuff’?

It was a gradual process. Attending an Agricultural High School, I was exposed to viticulture at a young age. The diversity of the profession was appealing: plant husbandry, creativity, market interface, science and mystique – all rolled into one job.

You’ve worked in many wineries – where did you learn the most before your current role?

I’ve learned, and continue to learn, everywhere I travel and visit - to single one producer out would be impossible. The basics are fairly universal, but when it comes to the intricate details and how specific cultivars react – experience becomes essential. I maintain that everyone can teach anyone something – specifically if they’ve had to find a solution to a certain problem.

What is it like working with Peter Finlayson?

Peter has an amazing memory and can effortlessly recall weather conditions or vintage particularities from more than a decade ago. I’ve picked up a lot from him, but one truth he shared early on was that it’s easier to sell a premium wine at a premium price than a mediocre wine at an average price.

What's your favourite of the Bouchard Finlayson wines?

The Galpin Peak Pinot Noir is the signature wine from our stable and most credit for our success is due to it. Pinot noir as a cultivar, can be very rewarding, if handled correctly. It happens to be my favourite, too.

Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir

How was last year’s harvest for you?

Cropping levels were the lowest we’ve seen in some time, but the concentration of reds still to be bottled is very promising. The 2020 is a continuation of the great run of healthy vintages recently experienced and I have high expectations. The 2020 sauvignon blanc is currently the only wine from this vintage in the market and has been well received.

If you could only drink one grape for the rest of your life, what would you choose and why?

It’ll have to be pinot noir – my personal preference is for poise over power and elegance over extraction. Furthermore, no other cultivar can rival its ability to express a sense of place. I’m also not one to shy away from a glass or two of bubbles.

What’s your death-row bottle?

Musigny from a reputable producer.

Learn more about Bouchard Finlayson

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