September 16, 2021

Belinda van Eyssen, a Testament to Diversity Driving Excellence in Wine

By Angela Oemcke

For Belinda van Eyssen, making wine for her family’s Barossa Valley winery The Cutting is about creating a sense of place. A sense of place for the carefully tended fruit, their vineyards’ diverse terroir, her family and herself. 

Belinda’s winemaking at The Cutting is a testament to how diversity drives excellence in wine (beyond terroir). Belinda’s first experiences with wine began growing up in Cape Town, where her people are the indigenous peoples of the wine-producing regions. However it wasn’t where she first landed. After years of hard work and scholarships, Belinda established herself as a Food Technologist in Capetown. It was through this role she came across an opportunity to venture to Sonoma California for the 2006 harvest, and after 6 months there was no turning back. Winemaking was her passion. Alongside this revelation, she also met Barossa boy Daniel McDonald, who she eventually married and joined in Australia eventually setting up home and cellar at The Cutting.

We were lucky enough to speak to Belinda and get to know more about The Cutting and the finer details of her own story as a winemaker.

Family Vintage 2021

Belinda in a Snapshot

What does the perfect drop of wine look like to you

The perfect drop is one that expresses regionality and with its flavours and aromas can transport me to its origins. What better way to ‘virtually’ travel during these times? 

What was your favourite memory from Vintage this year

My father-in-law Rod McDonald driving the tractor while we picked grapes, he passed away at the beginning of July this year. Rod tended our special patch of land for an incredible 40 years. 

Most underrated wine?

Before working in Portugal, I had very little knowledge of the wines made in this beautiful part of the world. The ‘Douro Reds – often field blends – are amazing and deserve more global recognition in my opinion.

If you could enjoy a glass of wine anywhere in the world with any person… where would it be, who would it be with and what would be in your glass?

I’d be sipping on a glass of Chenin Blanc with my mother, who lives in South Africa. I haven’t seen my mom for nearly three years because of travel restrictions. We’d be in the Cederberg region, just north of Cape Town overlooking the magnificent mountain range. 

If you could say one thing to your younger winemaker-in-the-making self, what would it be? 

Spend more time in the vineyard- working around the world as an intern during vintage, you often get stuck in the winery, I’d make more time to be out learning in the vineyards. Another tip would be to take more notes. I’ve had some amazing experiences and been able to enjoy some incredible wines on my travels. I have a shocking memory and wish I had taken more notes so I could remember them more intimately. 

Belinda tasting fruit

The Story So Far

Let’s start simple, what led you to becoming a winemaker? 

I grew up on the outskirts of Cape Town, a place with a melting pot of cultures and a long history in wine production. My people are the indigenous peoples of the wine-producing region at the Cape. Many in my mother’s family worked as vineyard labourers and grape pickers. The anticipation of my parents when I won a scholarship to university that meant I could escape the menial jobs they were forced to do is what motivates me.

I began my studies in Chemical Engineering before veering off in the direction of Food Technology. Fresh out of university, my first job was as a laboratory analyst for a large wine company. This is where I met my first mentor in wine, Graham Weerts who introduced me to the intriguing world of winemaking and let me tag along to tastings and various wineries during vintage.  

After a few years in the wine industry, I decided to pursue my field of study and accepted a role as a Food Technologist based in Cape Town. It was during this time that Graham offered me a vintage position in Sonoma County. My heart had always been in wine, so it was an obvious decision made easier when my employer offered me six months leave.

Working in California set me on a trajectory of wine and travel, eventually landing a winemaking role in South Africa where I worked with some fantastic winemakers and fruit from a diverse range of wine regions. My learnings took me to Bordeaux, Marlborough and the Douro Valley before relocating to Australia in 2010 to be with the aspiring viticulturist I had met in California.

Talk to us about the origins of The Cutting, from the inception of the vineyard to the name itself.

The vineyard was planted by my husband and father in-law Rod McDonald in 1998/99 with the focus on selling grapes to local winemakers. Originally planted to a number of lesser suited white varietals, Rod had the foresight to remove the original vines and plant more suited Shiraz vines. Situated on a hilltop site in the Stone Well subregion of the Barossa Valley, originally a hill cut through to build what is now Stonewell Road. The cut is still clearly visible and exposes a part of our vineyard soil profile and is where the name ‘The Cutting’ stems from. The image of the exposed cut is depicted on our labels in various brush strokes and shapes.

Aerial of The Cutting Vineyard and Shed

How have things changed at the winery since you have taken The Cutting on full time?

Daniel and I purchased the property from my in-laws in 2019. We’ve since increased our on-site tastings and introduced a Grenache to our range. There are a few exciting developments to the property which we’ll be announcing in the coming months. 

With sustainability always front of mind, we’ve made changes to the vineyard including laying down straw mulch grown on the property to ensure maximum soil moisture retention, reduce soil temperature and reduce the need for synthetic herbicides. We are 100% family owned and operated, even our labels are designed by family members. 

Belinda and Daniel at the 2020 Barossa Wine Show “We were pretty excited as our Shiraz received a gold medal”

How have your experiences making wine all around the world influenced your winemaking philosophy, and further the wines you make at The Cutting?

My experiences have taught me the importance of a wine’s identity and sense of place. I use techniques that I’ve learnt during my travels only to improve quality, never to change or manipulate what nature has given me. My focus is to showcase the regionality and the virtues of our unique vineyard site within that bigger picture. 

Tell me a bit about The Cutting’s Grenache and Shiraz, and the story behind each of their labels. 

Our Shiraz sourced from our Stonewell vineyard is 100% hand-picked and fermented on site. We believe in a gentle hand with meticulous attention to detail in our  viticulture and winemaking practices. The focus is to allow the site to resonate in our wines. Picking decisions are extremely important and having the vineyard on our doorstep makes frequent tastings during ripening periods easier. Blending options with small volumes are limited but we do have the advantage of a myriad of vineyard soils types. Picking from different areas in the vineyard allows us to produce wines with layers and depths of complexity, from the limestone base providing fruit with depth and concentration, to the clay and buckshot iron components, attributing to the finesse of the wine. 

We ferment in a retro fitted open top milk vat with a portion of whole bunches. I love the energy and vibrancy this technique brings, creating a more elegant style of Barossa Shiraz. We mature in mainly older French oak and all our wines are bottled without fining or filtration. The Shiraz labels depict the actual ‘cutting’ in various shapes and brush strokes and was designed by a family member based in Berlin. 

The Outlier Grenache is a new expression of our winemaking. The grapes are sourced from old vines planted the in the Barossa Valley in the 1940’s. Our maiden 2020 vintage spent seven months on lees in older oak creating a rich creamy mouthfeel and pure varietal characters. We produced a small volume of this wine which sold out within a few months. I wish we had some more! 

The striking label was designed by our talented niece, Mira Jacobson – currently studying art in Berlin. 

2020 Outlier Grenache and The Cutting 2019 Shiraz

What do people get most excited about when it comes to The Cutting, and how do you engage customers with your story?

Our visitors enjoy tasting inside the winery, where all of the action happens! To stand at the entrance of our winery, glass in hand overlooking the vineyard is pretty special. Driving through ‘The Cutting’ or taking a short walk to see the actual cut and the associated soil profile is another highlight. 

What is your approach to selling and connecting your wine with customers? 

We love connecting with our customers by sharing our story and our place. Our tastings are quite personal. Our guests are welcomed by myself and Daniel, followed by a short vineyard stroll and tasting which often includes a few vintage years and a sneaky barrel tasting if we can. Our people love the boutique offering, and that we’ve chosen to focus on the varieties that truly excel in the region. Our wines are available from our website or winery and we are supported by several of our premium restaurants in the Barossa region, many of whom point them in our direction for a personal tasting once they’ve enjoyed our wines. 

I imagine you have worked with a plethora of unique varieties from diverse terroir through your travels. What attracted you to working with the Barossa’s championed grapes, Shiraz and Grenache, at The Cutting? What other varieties of grapes would you like to work with in the future?

In my years spent learning, there was always an opportunity to benchmark Australian wines, especially in South Africa. The iconic Barossa Shiraz was always part of that line up of wines and never disappointed. I feel privileged to be making wine and showcasing the hero varieties in a region with a reputation as the origin of magnificent wines and the home of strong quality Australian producers. 

The Barossa is getter hotter so working with varieties suited to warmer conditions makes sense. There are so many I’d love to work with, in particular Cinsault, Touriga Nacional and Montepulciano. 

Belinda in Stellenbosch

To find out more about The Cutting you can visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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