Traditionally a male-dominated industry, Le Grand Domaine winemaker, Debbie Thompson, has proven that she’s a force to be reckoned with. Appointed in early 2020 she has already racked up numerous awards for this boutique brand
Le Grand Domaine is situated at the top of beautiful Devon Valley, overlooking the majestic Stellenbosch mountains. Devon Valley is one of Stellenbosch’s best-kept secrets, both scenically and viticulturally. Vines have flourished here since the 18th century and it has an enviable reputation, not only for the red wines that are made here but also as a source of premium grapes.
Debbie is the first female appointed winemaker at Le Grand Domaine. Having spent the previous 20 years at Simonsig, she describes her move as a 180-degree turn. Moving from a big cellar to a smaller, new cellar came with its own set of challenges and with her focus in prior years being mainly on red wine, she now had to open her mind to other varietals. She was also appointed right at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic but didn’t let it deter her, she tackled the challenges head-on and turned them into her own successes.
Although still fairly new to the company Debbie has achieved so much in a short space of time. This includes bottling the estate’s first Cap Classique (due for release in 2022) as well as earning recognition from industry role players.
When Debbie isn’t in the cellar or vineyards you’ll find her enjoying the outdoors with her husband, Simon and their two beautiful daughters, Hannah and Jesse.
We caught up with her to find out more about her and her winemaking journey.
How did you start in wine?
Initially, I planned to study veterinary science, but that meant going far away to the interior city of Pretoria. All my friends were headed for the University of Stellenbosch, so following them I enrolled in a Batchelor of Science degree.
And then the wine bug bit. You know how it goes, here you are at Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands, and you start going out, partying and you’re exposed to lots of wine! As my interest in wine grew, I thought, well, seeing I am doing a science degree I might as well include the viticulture and oenology degree Stellenbosch offered.
November 1999, Johan Malan, Owner/Head Winemaker of Simonsig took a calculated chance on me and the rest is history.
What has surprised you about being a winemaker?
Nobody told me that winemaking includes being a charismatic public speaker, Administrator, Fortune teller and Counsellor.
What goals in winemaking are you still working to achieve?
Besides challenging myself every day to make the right decisions to create the best wines that I can, my biggest goal now is to put Le Grand Domaine on the map.
What do you find to be the hardest part of winemaking?
What is your personal favourite wine and why?
Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé, besides being my ultimate Champagne Rosé, it brings back so many fond memories.
What is one of your favourite moments as a winemaker?
In 2008 I was chosen to represent the Top 10 Pinotage Producers of South Africa in Singapore and Hong Kong. There were 5 of us winemakers and I was the only girl.
The entire trip was an unbelievable experience, I had so much fun. One of the highlights was when myself and Pierre Wahl (the winemaker for Rijks at the time) did a “Lang arm” dance performance in a karaoke bar in Singapore.
We must have been pretty good because they cleared the dancefloor for us!
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as a winemaker?
Natural perfection is an unnatural thing.
Success comes as a result of hard work, Faith, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence.