One of the brightest young stars in South African winemaking has joined the team at Bellingham, where she will be working alongside head winemaker Richard Duckitt. We welcome Arlene Mains to the fold, a winemaker who has achieved an impressive CV in her relatively short career. We asked Arlene, whom Richard describes as “very likeable, with a great sense of humour and good palate”, a few questions to get to know the person behind the friendly exterior.
Where are you from, and how did your upbringing inspire you to become a winemaker?
I grew up in Blackheath, Cape Town, which is close to Stellenbosch and on weekends my dad and I would go for walks through Jonkershoek with our dogs. That probably planted the seeds for a career in wine, because I remember thinking that I would love to work and live in such a magnificent environment. So after school, I went to study for a BSc in Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch University, and in 2014 I continued to do an MSc in Wine Biotechnology with the focus on natural and wild yeast fermentations.
You’ve worked at some of the most famous wineries in the world. Tell us more about your travels and what you learned there?
After my studies, I joined Opus One in Napa, USA, on a three-month harvest internship and ended up spending another year at this very lavish cellar before I moved to their sister winery and Chateaux Mouton-Rothschild in Pauillac, France. Michael Silacci, the Opus One winemaker, played a valuable role in mentoring me and some of the key things I took away from my time working abroad are their passion for perfection and precision throughout the supply chain, and how to position wine as a genuine luxury product.
Back on home soil, what attracted you to your new position at Bellingham?
I actually did a harvest internship shortly after graduating at another DGB winery, Boschendal, with Lizelle Gerber. I was very impressed by the work ethic and the positive organisational culture, and so when the opportunity arose to join the company through Bellingham, which is one of South Africa’s most iconic wine brands, I grasped it with both hands.
When not in the winery, what you like to do in your free time?
I enjoy running or hiking with my beloved four-legged friend, spending time outdoors and being active. I also love music and attending live jazz performances is a favourite pastime, as is going to the theatre. I also like to explore different areas of the Winelands and taste wines at other wineries to keep abreast of what is happening in the industry.
What is the bucket-list wine experience that you dream of realising one day?
Travelling to some of the off-the-beaten-track ancient wine-producing countries, like Libanon, Turkey and Georgia, is definitely high up on my bucket list. I think it would be fascinating and so much fun to hear the stories about winemaking and wine enjoyment passed on through generations. Wine is such an emotive thing, so it is wonderful to experience it as an essential part of a country’s cultural fabric.