Meet Matthys Botes – winemaker behind the Pongrácz brand

by Tia
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One of the perennial favourites at the annual Johannesburg Cap Classique, Champagne & Bubbles Festival is Pongrácz, an award-winning, iconic South African bubbly that was first released in 1990, in memory of Desiderius Pongrácz, a Hungarian aristocrat who, after 10 years as a war prisoner in Siberia, first returned to Hungary and then fled the country during the Hungarian revolt, first settling in Namibia before finding his final home in the South African Winelands.

Pongrácz had a significant impact on the introduction of international grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir and is credited as one of the leading heads that helped to turn South African wines into the quality product they are today. He also lobbied the careful selection of the best vines in the vineyard as opposed to quantity harvesting. Tragically, he died in a road accident at the tender age of 61 but his memory lives on in the Cap Classiques made in his honour.

But what of the winemaker behind the Pongrácz brand?

Meet Matthys Botes, Worcester-born and bred and now living in Brackenfell with his wife Anel, whom he met at university, and their two children.

Ahead of this year’s Johannesburg Cap Classique, Champagne & Bubbles Festival which takes place on May 18 & 19 at the Inanda Polo Club in Sandton, we caught up with Botes to ask him a few questions.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a winemaker?

Growing up I spent many hours with my cousins in the vineyards of Rawsonville where my grandfather was a farm manager. I became fascinated with winemaking and viticulture, especially during the busy harvest time and although I had set my sights on becoming a paediatrician, the vines called out, so I studied Oenology and Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch. After graduation I worked a few harvests at several Australian wine farms and returned to South Africa to complete my Master’s degree. I joined Distell (now Heineken Beverages) in 2001 in the research and development department as an experimental winemaker delving into the many different facets of wine, spirits and RTDs (ready-to-drink alcohol products sometimes referred to as alcopops). In 2007 I had the opportunity to intern at the family-run Spottswoode winery in California, specialising in small scale ultra-premium wines and environmentally friendly winemaking practices. Joining the Pongrácz team in 2019 as winemaker for their range of Cap Classiques.

Can you tell us about the five Pongrácz Cap Classiques that will be available for tasting and buying at the show 

First off, our popular Pongrácz Brut which is a timeless Cap Classique with great elegance and complexity. Crisp green apple notes and nuttiness of freshly baked bread are prevalent on the nose. On the palate, delicate yeasty tones, layered with toast and ripe fruit are enlivened by a firm mousse and persistent bead that make it particularly attractive. It imparts a wonderful foamy mouthful of blackberry fruit flavours with a long lingering aftertaste.

Then we have our equally popular Pongrácz Rosé, which delights the palate as much as the eye and evokes an air of romance with its delicate salmon pink hue. Delicate strawberry tones are layered with whiffs of baked bread. On the palate it is perfectly balanced with clean acidity and juicy blackberry fruit.

For those who like their bubbly a little sweeter, we have the Pongrácz Noble Nectar which is presented in a beautifully shaped purple-hued bottle. On the palate the velvety, creamy butter and citrus notes blend seamlessly with delicate bubbles, light yeasty aromas, crisp, juicy pears, and litchi.

The Pongrácz Nectar Rosé delights and evokes an air of romance with its delicate cherry blossom hue. Great complexity on the palate with lower alcohol and enhanced sweetness, strawberry and red berries, layered with nuances of spicy aromas and yeasty undertones. The firm mousse and persistent bead reveal wonderful red berry and spicy flavours, rounded off with a light yet lingering aftertaste.

And finally, our showstopper is the Desiderius, which comes handcrafted in a uniquely styled fluted bottle that epitomises elegance, quality and nobility. This magnificent Cap Classique encapsulates grace and exceptional character. It is alluring with a rich complexity and a slight green tint that teems with lively bubbles. Nuances of fresh fruit, almonds and rich buttery bread, delight the senses.

Which is your favourite and why?

Desiderius is my favourite, as the complex, rich, nutty, and yeasty aromas remind me of my grandmother’s kitchen where I spent many a day as a young boy helping her with her baking.

What dishes do they each pair well with?

The Pongrácz Brut is perfect for any occasion and is a superb partner to sashimi, oysters in a red onion vinaigrette or salads; the Pongrácz Rosé lends itself to rich duck confit and is a must with truffle and mushroom risotto; the Pongrácz Noble Nectar is gorgeous on its own or served with Marsala or Thai chicken curry, smoorsnoek parcels, duck spring rolls served with a quince and chilli jam as well as with desserts such as fresh strawberries, créme brûlée or tiramisu; the Pongrácz Nectar Rosé pairs fabulously with charcuterie and tapas, deli sandwiches, mildly spiced Asian dishes, roast pork, feta and spinach tartlets, seared salmon or tuna steak and if accompanying dessert, it is the perfect match for rose Turkish delight, panna cotta with vanilla and raspberry, strawberry meringues or even enjoyed with a Victoria sponge cake; and finally, the Desiderius which goes well with bitter dark chocolate, duck liver parfait and orange scented delights.

What do you like to do to relax when you’re away from the vineyards?

I love to spend time with the family and enjoy the outdoors and nature. I am fascinated by history books, movies and music, and never far away from appreciating good wine, great food and the company of friends.

Anything else you would like to add?

Pongrácz is the perfect Cap Classique to enjoy, from celebratory occasions to special gatherings or to simply elevate everyday moments. I hope visitors to the Johannesburg Cap Classique, Champagne & Bubbles Festival will stop by the Pongrácz stand to sample our five bubblies and choose a favourite for themselves!

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