Often recognized as South Africa's premium wine estate, Rust en Vrede has stood peacefully among the vineyards of Stellenbosch for over 320 years and is the first to specialize in the exclusive production of red wine. The last 32 years have seen Rust en Vrede focus on Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot, with many accolades being bestowed upon the estate. Chef John Shuttleworth and Sommelier Barry Scholfield take pride in ensuring that the experience at Rust en Vrede is one you will never forget. In this interview they tell us about their philosophy on food and wine, current trends in South Africa and what they believe makes a good wine list.
Congratulations on being featured in the World of Fine Wine Awards 2015. The awards, chaired by WOFW editor Neil Beckett, celebrate the importance of a good wine selection and are evaluated by a panel of senior judges. How does it feel to be recognized by industry insiders in this way?
John Shuttleworth: It is always an honor to be recognized for the work that we do, but even more so when it is done and judges by industry insiders as they have a clear knowledge and understanding of the day to day running and challenges faced in the industry.
Barry Scholfield: Rust en Vrede prides itself on being a great dining experience in any context, not just a great South African Restaurant and it's therefore a great honor to be recognized on such a highly regarded international platform.
Where did your love of food and wine originate from?
JS: My love for food comes from baking bread with my grandmother at a very young age. Since then I knew my career would be in the food industry.
BS: My dad always collected wine, most of which would probably best not be cellared, my mother always encouraged my brother and I to cook and there was always a sherry glass full of wine for us with Sunday's roast but my love for food and wine only really started later in life. I had worked in hospitality and wanted to learn more about wine. Whilst living on a farm in Franschhoek, surrounded by wine estates, with not much else to do but cook at home and visit wine farms, a pass time soon became a hobby and a hobby became a passion.
What food and wine trends are you seeing in South Africa at the moment?
BS: Food and wine culture in SA is still very much evolving. With that in mind I guess it's only natural that we still follow international trends but we are starting to see both wine and food evolving into its own identities. I'll let the chefs answer about the cooking styles and produce but the buzz word still is “local”. From a sommeliers perspective the trends are definitely towards modern and contemporary re-interpretations of traditional dishes with bolder, easier to distinguish flavors that perfectly suit the trend in wine to embrace our own and create wines that are great in themselves and are identifiable as South African rather than emulating international examples.
JS: I have during my 8 years living in this country learned a lot about the local cuisine and produce, incorporating this local fare into a classical French style of cuisine we do at Rust en Vrede can sometimes be challenging but also motivating and great fun. South African cuisine has many influences and new trends evolve all the time. At the moment I am seeing a lot more “smaller is better” kind of trends in terms of new venues that cater for much smaller capacity and having short, simple menus-sometimes with singular focus on a specific food type- but delivering it spectacularly.
Was it always your intention to work with food and wine?
JS: Yes indeed, from about the age of 11
BS: Not at all. After school I pursued a career in the oil industry, traveled, fell around from one part time job to another and floated around without much direction for years. I could never set my mind on one direction for longer than a few months until I became a sommelier. Wine, it seems, is an infinitely evolving and constantly humbling topic. I guess I would only become bored of it once there is nothing left to learn and that does not seem likely anytime soon.
What is the secret to your success?
JS: In this industry especially it is important to be surrounded by the right team. I have been very fortunate to have worked with great young chefs, their passion and drive also continuously motivates me.
BS: A great team with a shared vision. Our proprietor has a clear vision of what he wants for the restaurant, hires the right people and leaves us to do what we do best. There is constant communication between the Front and Back of house and we strive to provide a whole experience of food, wine, service and setting in harmony.
What do you think is the most important element of a good wine list?
JS: Haha, from a chef's perspective… a good sommelier!
BS: Foresight and planning. A good sommelier builds a winelist for his successor. You need to be constantly staying up to date with trends, not just in wine but food also. I buy wines today that I believe will be popular and work with the style of food the chef will be cooking next year, the year after or even further down the line. Only then can you hope to have a list of wines that are at optimal drinking while working with the food. I must thank my predecessors Neil Grant and Joakim Hansi Blackadder. They laid the foundations that I'm privileged enough to tweak today.
Are there any particular wines that you love, or remind you of a certain place or memory?
BS: Two. I'm currently nursing a serious crush on Barolo. Few wines are as haunting, complex and complicated, literally hard to understand, as great Nebbiolo. A completely uncompromising wine that demands patience. And our own. We have a strict quality control policy where I myself taste every single bottle of wine opened in the restaurant. You would think that after tasting a wine so many thousands of times you would become bored of it but I haven't. To bring it back to my previous analogy I guess you could say Rust en Vrede wines have reached the comfort and understanding of a long term relationship. The initial infatuation has turned into a deep love of the wines. I know them better than any other wine, can pick them out of any lineup blind and they provide the same sort of comfort as your own bed after being on holiday for weeks or tasting your mothers cooking after years out of the house.
What is your fundamental philosophy on food and wine?
JS: In our particular venue our food and wine creates an experience for the customers. We want our guests to experience both at the optimum level. A lot of time goes into our pairings to get them perfect.
BS: “Do you like it?” My favorite guests are the ones who obviously just started exploring wine. When you pour them the first taster and they swirl it around the glass like they've seen others do and then look up at you and go, “so what am I supposed to smell?” and I say, “Do you like it?” People try and over complicate wine so much and yes I do believe there is a place for critical evaluation but when it comes down to it it's really about whether it tastes yummy or not.
What do you predict for the next 5-10 years in the wine industry?
BS: I'm very optimistic on where global wine trends are going. I'd like to think that the current trends for artisanal organic products will keep growing. If we as a wine industry can find a way to relate to the larger audience and simplify without dumbing down or homogenizing the product we can continue building on the foundation of new wine consumers that will eventually become the appreciators of fine wine in the future.
What is next for you?
JS: We are always looking for ways to enhance the experience for our guests. So every year we look for ways in which to do that.
BS: Right now I would just like to complete my WSET Diploma. I work at a great company, live on a wine farm and have a mountain biking track right on my doorstep. Life is pretty good so I haven't thought about the next too much yet. There'll definitely be a couple bottles of Barolo though!