ICONIC MOMENTS WITH CHRISTIANE VON ARNIM: AN INTERVIEW WITH OUR FIRST LADY
01 June 2022
Christiane von Arnim, our CEO, talks about what makes wines from South Africa, France and Germany so unique and much, much more. She has been leading the next chapter of the Warwick legacy since 2018.
Are there any essential wine hacks you wish more people knew about?
When opening a bottle with a wax closure, ignore it and pull it out the way you usually would instead of cutting and picking away the wax. This is much easier and neater – and a lot less frustrating.
Also, serving red wine at the correct temperature requires consideration. The room temperatures can vary drastically worldwide and through the seasons. For example, in South Africa, a hot summer’s evening can reach up to 30°C and serving any wine at that temperature is far from ideal. A general rule of thumb is to put your bottle of wine into the fridge for one and a half to two hours before pouring to achieve the ideal temperatures.
As a German living and working in South Africa and having grown up in the wine regions of Germany and France, which is better; German, South African or French wine?
It’s impossible to make such a direct comparison. Each country - and more specifically, each subregion – has its own specialities that are somehow inextricably linked to its place and heritage. Ultimately, quality boils down to the individual producer. Their decisions to realise the true potential of the vineyard sites they are working with and the steps they take in the wine cellar to bring out the best in those grapes in terms of stylistic expression.
That being said, Rheinhessen and Mosel in Germany and Alsace in France are the best places to look out for excellent Riesling. South Africa’s Swartland and Stellenbosch regions are a good start to look for outstanding Chenin Blanc, but so is the Loire Valley in France. All three countries produce exceptional Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs – albeit they differ substantially in style between the various sub-regions.
The most reputable Cabernet Sauvignons, specifically Cabernet Sauvignon blends, will be found in France’s Bordeaux region and South Africa’s iconic Stellenbosch region. And then there is Pinotage. Since South Africa is the only country to produce wines from this native grape, we are obviously the best at it.
As someone with over 15 years of experience in the wine business, did marrying a cellarmaster influence your wine preferences and opinions, and do you ever disagree about which wine to open at dinner?
Being married to a cellarmaster certainly affects the relative importance of wine in my life. Hardly a day goes by without a glass of wine being enjoyed in our home. We both love food and wine, and we have a very open mindset when exploring new wines.
Working with wine daily and knowing how much time, effort, and careful thought decision goes into creating a good bottle of wine probably makes me both more appreciative and more critical at the same time. However, at the end of the day, every bottle of wine has something exciting to offer. Therefore we never disagree about which wine to open for dinner.
In 2018, when it was announced that you would be taking over the reins as the new CEO, you said that you felt privileged to be entrusted with the continuation of the Warwick legacy. Can you tell us what you consider to be the legacy of Warwick?
Warwick has a legacy of both innovation and tradition. From a wine perspective, Warwick is best known for its incredible red wines made from predominantly Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is only natural to build on this solid foundation. Essentially, we continuously innovate within our traditional parameters. The same applies to our destination. If there is one thing that Warwick is known for, it is probably our picnics and the family-friendly environment.
Tell us a bit about when you took over from Norma Ratcliffe, a woman who was an innovator in the South African wine business.
Our paths crossed a few times before I joined Warwick, and Norma always struck me as a true rebel. Tell her that something couldn’t be done, and she’d make sure to prove you wrong. I am very much like that, too. It is vital to challenge the status quo and question conventions occasionally. It’s that kind of maverick mindset that yields innovation. Norma was one of the first people who called me to congratulate me on my appointment. Her blessing indeed offered a great deal of reassurance. We continue to be in contact, and I think she is pleased to see the developments here at Warwick.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted wine grape in the world and one of South Africa’s favourite varietals. Why do you think that is?
I am sure that Cabernet Sauvignon’s Bordeaux provenance has a lot to do with the prestige and popularity this cultivar enjoys. It is arguably one of the world’s best-known wine regions. Cabernet Sauvignon is also relatively easy to grow, thriving in a range of climates. There are very few limiting factors to growing this cultivar from a practical perspective. The grapes yield good colour, dark, complex fruit flavours, and structured tannins, resulting in rich, full-bodied, and incredibly concentrated wines. In other words, it delivers everything that one expects from an excellent red wine. All of this naturally speaks to Cabernet Sauvignon being one of the most desirable cultivars.
What does the concept of ‘First Lady’ mean to you? And as the first lady of Warwick, what is the one piece of advice you have for women wanting to work in the wine business?
The First Lady brand was created in honour of Norma Ratcliffe. She delivered many firsts during her career in the South African wine business, like being one of the first female winemakers in the country and known as the innovator behind the concept of a Cape Blend. So the spirit that is embodied in the First Lady brand is one of absolute determination and vision, challenging conventions, and driving transformation and innovation. Norma has opened the door for many ladies in the South African wine business to a large degree.
My advice – not only to women but to everyone – is always to be the best you can be. Aim high, and challenge yourself to be better than the average. Never stop learning. Being good is not enough if you really want to succeed. You need to be outstanding.
She responded without hesitation when asked which case of Warwick wine she would save from a fire.
A case of 1984 Warwick ‘La Femme Bleue,’ which today is known as The Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the first wine ever produced by Norma under the Warwick label and, therefore, irreplaceable.