Helgard van Schalkwyk is a Capetonian in heart and soul! Having grown up in Kuils River, just a short distance from Cape Town’s CBD, in a wine-loving family, this was always his destiny! Excelling in Science at school and realising that winemaking combines both Science and Wine, he was sold and set out to complete a B. Agric degree at Stellenbosch University, graduating in 2008.
Helgard van Schalkwyk
I am a born and bred Capetonian (albeit from the Nothern Suburbs). I grew up in Kuils River which is a small town just outside of Stellenbosch, so I have always been surrounded by the Winelands.
As a kid, I remember the family going to wine estates for tastings (must admit I found it a bit boring) during the holidays and I always enjoyed the smell in the tasting rooms. My parents also allowed me to taste a little bit of wine during Sunday lunches. This is probably where my love for wine started. With the help from my Aunt, I discovered that there is more to wine than just the sweet stuff and that it is actually a pretty amazing product. Apart from falling in love with wine I also enjoy science and pretty soon realised that the two combined is called winemaking…
After High School, I studied winemaking at the University of Stellenbosch. In 2008 I graduated with a BScArgric in Winemaking and went off immediately to New Zealand to gain some international experience in making Sauvignon Blanc. I did this for a few months but realized that I longed for a smaller setup (the company in New Zealand was 26,000 tons at the time I was there) where you actually got to taste the wine you made and get your hands dirty.
At the end of 2009, I came back to South Africa and started working at a medium-sized winery in Stellenbosch. Here I still longed for the freedom that a small cellar provides and when I saw Lynx Wines in Franschhoek advertise the position of Assistant Winemaker, I knew immediately this was the opportunity I was longing for.
I was successful with my application and started in November 2010 as the Assistant Winemaker. I really enjoyed my forming years as a winemaker at Lynx Wines and worked my way up from Assistant Winemaker to General Manager/Winemaker of the company.
Over the next ten years, I learned a lot and honed my winemaking skills winning multiple awards and gaining valuable skills in managing a wine farm and cellar. Around 2020 I realised it was time to move on and time to gain different winemaking skills and challenge myself with new wine styles and cultivars.
I was fortunate to be able to move to Altydgedacht Wine Estate here I had the opportunity to work with some very interesting varietals. I very quickly had to learn that cool climate winemaking is very different from a very warm climate like Franschhoek! I realized pretty quickly that I love what a cooler climate has to offer in terms of winemaking and I immediately set out to explore this difference in full! During my short stint at Altydgedacht, I really came to enjoy working with the Gewurztraminer and Barbera both of which I worked hard to make class leaders. But more importantly, I rediscovered my love for Sauvignon Blanc and its diversity. By just playing around with the timing of when you harvest the grapes, to using different yeast strains and fermentation temperatures you can vastly influence the flavour profile of your final product. This doesn’t even add to the complexity of barrel fermenting the wine!
When Altydgedacht announced that they were closing down I looked far and wide for an opportunity where I could work with cool climate grapes, some unusual cultivars, some red varietals (of which Cabernet franc would be first prize), and Sauvignon blanc (in various styles, but especially barrel fermented). The list of potential estates was surprisingly short and I despaired… but not for long as I heard that Nitida Wine Cellars might have an opening! I didn’t think twice about making contact with the founder and owner of Nitida, Bernhard Veller to explore the possibility of working with him at Nitida Wine Cellars to help craft their world-class wines.
It was a very happy day when Bernhard informed me that I had the job! In parts, it feels that my career has built up to this moment and that all the skills I have learned over the last decade were honed for what Nitida has to offer! I’m very excited to be again in a very hands-on cellar and to be part of an amazing team from the vineyard, cellar, marketing, and wine-tasting room!
I love wine, the making and enjoying thereof, but mostly I love sharing what I do. When we share knowledge and wine, we create a space for understanding and enjoyment that leads to unforgettable memories.