Schalk van der Westhuizen was born on Neethlingshof , where he lived all his life until July 2000. His father, Gys van der Westhuizen, was farm manager on the estate for 30 years. Armed with his Elsenburg diploma, Schalk in 1973 took over the reins from his father to manage the farm, later becoming the cellarmaster as well.

When Hans-J Schreiber, international banker and financier, bought Neethlingshof in 1985 , he immediately started a comprehensive replanting programme, replacing 85% of the vineyards. Initially, Schalk was responsible for the replanting and vineyard management, but in 1994 he started making the wine, reaping the fruits of his labour in the vineyards and producing the quality wines for which he has become so well known.

Schalk’s decision to accept the post as winemaker at sister farm, Alto, was not an easy one. “I thought about it for a very long time,” he says thoughtfully. In the end he rose to the challenge and once again started replanting vineyards.

Schalk became well known for one of Neethlingshof’s flagship wines, namely the botrytised Weisser Riesling Noble Late Harvest. For a record eight consecutive years, this wine was awarded the trophy as the South African National Champion at the SA Young Wine Show. Accolades bestowed internationally include the German Wine Institute Trophy in 1998, for the best botrytised wine – worldwide – at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London.

Alto is red wine country, but Schalk’s experience with the Neethlingshof reds has stood him in good stead. His first vintage was in 2001 and both the Alto Estate and the Alto Cabernet Sauvignon of that year have done well, particularly the Cabernet, which has been selected to be served on SA Airways First Class.

A reserved man, Schalk shies away from media attention, saying simply that he is not a man of many words. When he is congratulated on his numerous achievements, he always replies that the vines work their own magic: he is simply there to assist in the process of producing a most wonderful product. “For me it’s important to make a wine that everyone enjoys,” Schalk explains, “that’s worth more to me than prizes and medals, though I wouldn’t mind a few of those too.”

Schalk’s latest achievement does deserve attention however. The limited release Alto Shiraz 2001 received a gold medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards as well as winning the trophy for the best South African Rhone Varietal over 10 pounds.


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