With the passing of Ross Gower, the Wine Industry has lost a good man

30 March 2010  by Allan Mullins
Ross was larger than life in so many ways. He was an immensely talented and successful Winemaker and was highly respected by all his peers, both locally and internationally.
He was a man of great integrity, honesty and strength of character, thoroughly enjoyed a party and was enormously good company. His sense of humour and zest for life made him a sought after companion at any social gathering. Above all he was a loving family man to whom his wife, Sally, and sons, Robbie, James and Doug, meant the world.

As a friend wrote in memory of Ross:
“The sound of your laughter is echoing through the vineyards tonight. Friendship is a gift you mastered to perfection, your glass was never half full, nor was the glass of those in your company, not just brimming with wine but with kindness, generosity and words of advice. You have left a gaping hole in the lives of those who knew you.”

Ross was born in Bloemfontein, younger brother to much loved sister Sandy. After attending Grey Junior he completed his schooling at SACS High School in Cape Town where he excelled at rugby and gymnastics.

Having decided at age thirteen to become a Winemaker, he enrolled and qualified at Elsenberg. He then got a job at Nederburg Winery, where he worked under the legendary Gunther Brzel. He was integral in assisting Gunther in developing the famous Nederburg Edelkeur.

From there he went to Germany where he studied at Weinsberg Wine School. Ross has retained valuable German contacts, many of whom have become close family friends. In 1980, the year that he and Sally got married, he was headhunted by Corbans Winery in New Zealand where he made a lasting impression and was promoted to head Winemaker during the three years he spent there. His two eldest sons were both born there and have both subsequently been welcomed back to study and work.

While in New Zealand, Ross was sought out by Duggie Jooste to become the Winemaker at his newly purchased Constantia estate – Klein Constantia. His first vintage in 1986 was widely hailed and his initial wines immediately reaped a bushel of praise and awards, and this recognition of his skill and talent continued throughout his Winemaking career. His 1986 Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are still regarded as benchmarks in the evolution of South African wines. During his 19 year tenure as Klein Constantia Winemaker he added Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz and Marlbrook, a red Bordeaux blend, to his stable of wines.

Perhaps one of Ross’ proudest achievements was his Vin de Constance which signalled the renaissance of the legendary 18th and 19th century Constantia. This wine had been much sought after by luminaries such as Napoleon, Frederick the Great, Bismarck and the kings of France and England and written about by the likes of Charles Dickens, Baudelaire and Jane Austen. After intensive research and keeping as close as possible to the original formula, Ross made his wine from extremely ripe, raisin-like Muscat de Frontignac grapes, one of the varieties which had been used in the original Constantia wine. This excellent sweet and luscious wine has gained international recognition to the extent that a book Vin de Constance has been written about it.

In 2003 Ross left Klein Constantia and he, Sally and the boys bought a neglected apple farm, Glen Stuart in the Elgin Valley and set about turning it into their own piece of wine heaven. Ross’ life took on new meaning as he and his family set about planting vineyards and building a winery. Through hard work, dedication and perseverance, the family made Ross Gower wines an established and highly respected brand.

Ross always loved a fine glass of bubbly and was quoted as saying: “I firmly believe that Elgin is a superb area for Mthode Cap Classique”. How right he was as his Pinot Noir Brut 2006 and 2007 have become runaway successes. It was no surprise that in the WINE Magazine’s 2009 Cap Classique Challenge his 2007 was chosen as the best Ros.

Ross made numerous visits to the wine countries of the world and those of us who travelled with him found him to be a delightful companion, always combining his sense of fun with an eager thirst for knowledge. He became an overnight legend in the Loire wine village of Sancerre by doing handstands around the main square of the village.

Some of Ross’ Quotes:

A wine is like a child, one needs to nurse it with great care and love

If you don’t love what you are doing, it will be the first thing to show in the wine

The most extreme thing I have done for the love of wine is starting a winery of my own, but probably selling a kidney would have been easier

If I could have any meal in the world to accompany my favourite wine, I would request something prepared by the late Frank Swainston – but the food is only one aspect, it is the people that make it memorable

If I could invite any person to a wine tasting at my winery I would invite Madame Bollinger, because I admire her tenacity and style in creating the Bollinger brand and more importantly – hopefully – she would bring a couple of bottles of her R.D. (ps – Ross called his rubber duck R.D.!)

At my interview for my job at Nederburg Gunther Brzel looked at me in my suit and told me there were no suits in their environment – I knew then that winemaking was for me

There is not much I dislike about winemaking – other than the paperwork and admin but luckily I have sons to now do this for me

Often Wine Judges follow fashion but one has to have a full glass or two to see that these wines often have no substance – I make wines to be enjoyed in small and larger quantities

My greatest pleasure is relaxing with a long lunch, good company, good music – and of course, great wines

I could not my job without my loving wife Sally who is my biggest fan, consumer…and critic

Rosco, my dear friend – I will always remember you.
Cheers, until the time that we crack our next bottle together.