Meet the Winemaker Dave Hughes of South Africa


Author of books on drink and allied subjects Distiller, winemaker, wine auctioneer, international wine and spirit judge and founder of the Cape Wine Academy

David Hughes, known as Dave, was born on 12 June 1938 in Gatooma district, then Rhodesia and educated at Umtali High School.
Stages of his career:
He served an apprenticeship as a distiller at African Distillers in 1956 and filled several positions before moving to South Africa in 1986. Operations manager SFW (Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, now Distell) Transwaal, General manager SFW Natal, Winery Manager SFW Stellenbosch, Marketing Manager Consumer Relations SFW until 1989. Independent and Freelance since 1989.
He founded the Cape Wine Academy in 1979 and appointed Phyllis Hands as the first principal. He has been involved with the Nederburg Auction since its inception in 1974 and is still a consultant. Consultant to Veritas national Wine Competition, South African Airways Wine Selections and to the International Wine and Spirit Competition in Britain.

Played Rhodesian provincial rugby, water polo, hockey and basketball. Rhodesian junior breastroke champion, Rhodesian Army Cross Country Champion (Running). He has completed 10 Comrades Marathons.

Memberships and Honours:
American Society of Enologista, Society of Wine Educators, International Wine and Spirit Journalists

Life Member of the International Wine and Food Society Invited in 2001 to join Worshipful Company of Distillers. The first non-resident of Britain to be given this honour since the guild was formed in 1638 to control and protect the production of spirits in the city of London.
Freeman of the City of London, 2002
Keeper of the Quaich, 2003 (A Scotch Whisky Association to honour those who have contributed to the Scotch Whisky Industry)
2011: Wine legend, wine writer and wine ambassador Dave Hughes has been honoured by the South African Port Producers’ Association (SAPPA) for his contribution to building the image of Port in South Africa and internationally.

Dave and Lorna

Dave and his wife Lorna were gracious hosts on many occasions.
A lot of wine and conversations were enjoyed!

Author or Co-Author of the following books:
Living with wine
300 Great South African Wines
South African Wine Buyers Guide (9 editions)
Winelands of the Cape
Visiting Wine Routes
Enjoy Wine (Co-author: Dave Biggs), 1990
The Complete Book of South African Wine (Co-authors: Phyllis Hands and John Kench), Struik Publishers, 1992
Hughes on Booze, 1997
Wines and Brandies of the Cape of Good Hope (Co-author: Phyllis Hands), Stephan Phillips, 1998
200 Best Value Wines in South Africa, 2001
New World Of Wine From The Cape Of Good Hope: The Definitive Guide To The South African Wine Industry (Co- authors: Phyllis Hands and Keith Phillips), Roundhouse Publishing, 2002
Brandies of the Cape, 2004
A Dictionary of South African Wine, 2004
Contributor to John Platter’s South African Wine Guide since 1996

Bill and Roy at Daves house.

Bill: What was your ”A-ha” wine?

Dave: I never had such an occasion. When I was an apprentice distiller I came to  know wine and it was a natural development.  I was fortunate in that the company I was employed by imported some of the world’s best wines and so my journey into wine began with the very best that Europe had to offer


Bill: Who was your winemaking Mentor?

Dave: I was  not lucky enough to have such a person. I was a lone little lad in the then Rhodesia so learned most of what I was doing from books and papers. I wrote to folk in South Africa and Europe and then experimented on my own. By the time I was making wine in South Africa, I was looked at as a ”mentor”!


Bill:  Radio show?

Dave:  nowadays I only do minor parts on radio. I have a weekly slot on the South African Catholic Radio.  I have much the same on BBC Southern Counties Radio.  In the past, up to five years ago, I was on a national station on a weekly programme on Friday afternoons and then Saturday mornings on all aspects of the wines and spirits business. I did this for nine years. I also was involved with a regular South African TV wine and food show


Bill:  Favourite place to judge wine?

Dave:  That is very difficult. I suppose the UK  in that I have judged there annually for more than 40 years. For some seven years, I spent about six months of the year judging mainly in the UK at the International Wine and Spirit Competition. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my judging visits to Slovenia. Also Portugal, Spain and, of all places, the Netherlands! I have enjoyed judging in USA, Mexico, Canada, Italy, Australia and various others.


Bill:  Not visited but would like to?

Dave: China.


Bill:  Meeting with Robert Mondavi

Dave:  I am not sure of the exact date. It was when he was building the winery, The fermentation facilities were in place but lab and such were not  yet complete. Possibly 1969 / 1970? I remained friends with Mr Mondavi until died. He visited South Africa, I visited Napa almost annually and then he got very involved with the International Wine & Spirits Conference. So I would see Mr Mondavi two or three times a year. As for my time at the winery, it was all very educational and made friends for life.


Bill:  What makes South African wines unique?

Dave:  I guess it’s location which gives an enormous variety of growing conditions. But that is the case in most countries. I think  South African’s are pretty much of pioneering peoples and so during the years of isolation, they found ways to do things that hadn’t  been tackled anywhere else. Nowadays  much of what is taken for granted if  not originating in South Africa was honed and further developed here.


Bill:  Cork vs other closures.

Dave:  I was producing wines in Rhodesia under screw cap in the middle 60’s. As the technology improved I followed screw in preference to cork enclosures. In 1973, I bottled wine under various closures and the wine under a patent screw top developed better than any other closure. In my life, I have been so disappointed by a poor cork that I no longer take the chance. However, when using any kind of closure the application has to be done correctly.

I had the pleasure meeting Dave while working the 2016 harvest at Ovebrgaauw Wine Estate in Stellenbosch.  We spent many hours conversing over a number of Braais (South African barbeque) and I think Dave is a great person.  His life has been devoted to Wine and Sprits.  Many winemakers in South Africa call Dave and ask that he critique their wines.  His experience is priceless.  I look forward to sharing many more glasses of wine and taking it all in.  Remember, it’s not a business it is a lifestyle.

bill and dave

Our final night in Stellenbosch South Africa with Dave and his wife Lorna.

If you have a winemaker you would like me to interview or have questions please drop me an email at  Cheers!

Life is too short to drink crappy wine!  Expand your palate and keep trying.

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