Wild about wine

Wild about wine

As the first woman wine journalist in Johannesburg, and one of the youngest in the industry when she started, Juliet Cullinan has been a driving force in the South African wine industry for the past three decades.

Today, this inspirational Renaissance woman continues to champion the incredible creatives behind our country’s best vintages, and with so much history behind her, the future looks even brighter. ‘After 36 years in the wine industry, wine is both my passion and my profession. Looking back at my career’s humble beginnings I feel very honoured to have had the loyalty and encouragement of the wine fraternity. Many of these wineries have attended every single festival!’ The festival Juliet’s talking about is the Juliet Cullinan Standard Bank Wine Festival – an annual tribute to all things viticulture that this year celebrated its 29th year, making it the longest running (and most exclusive!) wine show in South Africa. But while the festival may be gearing up for its fourth decade, Juliet’s passion for wine was born long before that. ‘I fell in love with ‘tasting’ from a very young age. My grandfather inspired me from early on to believe in myself, to keep trying, to get up after a fall and always work my hardest. My father taught me about different wine styles and I watched his excitement and joy at selecting wines for his cellar and renovating the stables into cellars for his collection. He spent ages discussing the sizes and shapes of the wine bins and how to find them, count them and store our tasting notes before computers.’

Today Juliet splits her time between Monte Carlo, where she lives and works as the editor of a wine magazine, and South Africa, which she says she’ll always call home – not least because of the amazing wines being produced here.‘We’re really good. I mean seriously good! We offer fruit flavour, value for money and great wine and food pairing wines.’ With her deep knowledge of wines, it’s no surprise therefore that Juliet is so intent on bringing SA’s great wines to the international stage. ‘I see wineries winning blind tasting competitions and the international journalists celebrating our wines. I’m so proud of where South Africa is in the wine world. It’s particularly challenging for our winemakers. Most countries in the world don’t have severe droughts, or electricity cuts. SA wineries build houses, schools and hospitals for the community. European wineries just hire staff they house and feed only for the harvest.’
When asked about the future of the wine industry in South Africa, Juliet’s passion continues to shine through, and it’s clear that the creativity and hard work of the cellar masters themselves is key to what keeps her going. ‘We’re a new world country just beginning to gain recognition for our best talent. I believe our wines will be more suited to today’s cuisine and lifestyle and our reputation will grow. I love meeting and interacting with these cellar masters, their firm belief; their talent; their appreciation of the vine and its varied flavours, and their enjoyment of life. Listening to them talk, taste and explain new winemaking processes and theories inspires me.’

Going forward, it’s clear Juliet has no intention of slowing down – much like the flourishing South African wine industry she loves so much. ‘I don’t miss out on what life is offering! Every 24 hours I want to know that I’ve experienced all life is offering me at that moment. The changes in the industry, wine and grapes and the enthusiasm of the young winemakers continue to inspire me – they’re as excited as I was when I started out! I love to re-live my wine career through their experiences.’

Juliet lets us in on wineries to watch here…

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