Wikus Pretorius graduated with a degree in Marketing from the University of Stellenbosch but quickly decided against a desk job to pursue a career in the wine industry. He classifies himself as a real farm boy so when he came to study in Stellenbosch and was surrounded by magnificent vineyards and wine estates, it simply sparked his interest in the physical making of wine.
In 2002 he began an internship with Muratie Wine Estate starting with his first harvest and thus began his love for wine and the whole winemaking process. Soon afterwards he travelled the world gaining extensive experience at wine estates in Corsica in France, Sonoma Valley in California, Cape Jaffa Wines in Australia and in between he came back to South Africa and worked at Marklew Wines in Stellenbosch, trying to do between two and three vintages a year.
After returning home to South Africa, Wikus decided to settle down and he began working at Haskell Vineyards where he stayed for 10 years. He recently moved to La Petite Ferme in October 2015 where he holds the position of winemaker, taking over from the previous owner's son.
La Petite Ferme is a small wine estate and enough wine is produced every year to only sell on the property however, there are many benefits to this approach. "The thing about wine making is that some bigger wineries don’t have the opportunity to go out and pick individual parcels that are specific to the area and to the farm itself, but because we are fairly small and everything is done by hand I can go out and find these unique spots within La Petite Ferme’s vineyards and showcase what we can do," explains Wikus.
It’s also beneficial in that nothing slips past the winemaker because he is so hands on, he can pick up on small things that may differentiate them from their neighbour, things that are specific to La Petite Ferme.
Striving to be innovative in a natural environment is a challenge most winemakers face but it’s one Wikus takes in his stride. Wine is a natural thing that relies on nature and the climate, so every year he tries to change up his technique because it’s so easy to fall into a regime of doing the same thing year in and year out.
The job description is also something that appealed the most to Wikus. Being outdoors and getting your hands dirty in a t-shirt and cap is a huge plus but he also loves the balance in that there are times you do suit up to do wine presentations.
He has gone on to win numerous wine awards but personally he feels having attained all of this without a formal winemaking education and purely based on extensive experience is a huge achievement. Although, he recommends that all aspiring winemakers do their formal training, he is a firm believer in the practical experience you gain along the way.
14 years later, there is no doubt in Wikus’ mind that being on a wine estate among vineyards and lush vegetation is where he is meant to be.