Top picks: South Hill’s Sean Skibbe

Top picks: South Hill’s Sean Skibbe

This week we chatted to Sean Skibbe, who has been the winemaker at Elgin’s beautiful South Hill Wine Estate since 2005. Winemaking wasn’t Sean’s first career choice but working as a sommelier at a prominent Cape wine farm ignited his passion for the grape. Find out which sights, smells and seriously vintage wine this quad-biking almost-accountant loves.

What would your 10-year-old self say about the job you do right now?
“You get to ride a quad bike for work? No way!”

How did you end being a winemaker?
“After school I thought I wanted to be an accountant of all things. It took 2 years of a BComm to realise that accounts and I were not on good terms. After graduating with a Social Science degree majoring in Economics, I did a post-graduate diploma in marketing at UCT. Whilst at university I funded my studies by working as sommelier at Buitenverwachting restaurant, which is really where the wine bug caught me. I poked my head into the cellar and got in their way from time to time. Eventually I realised that it was wine making that I really wanted to do so I enrolled at Elsenburg for a cellar technology diploma run by Loftie Ellis. I worked a harvest at Jordan winery before joining South Hill in June 2005 – just in time to be involved in the creation of the brand and the maiden 2006 vintage.”

South Hill Vineyards

South Hill Vineyards

What’s the absolute best thing and the absolute pits about your job?

“The best thing is the cyclical nature of it, being involved from budding to the bottle and then the glass. It’s a very rewarding experience, influencing the entire process. The pits is that you are at the mercy of the weather and you only get one chance a year to experiment, unlike a chef who can fine-tune a recipe every day.”s

What is a food aroma you love?

“Mushrooms frying in butter.”

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?
“I thankfully haven’t experienced any exotic shockers like fermenting shark meat but my pet hate is grit in my veggies or salad. It’s probably not reasonable for me to feel as strongly about this as I do, but there it is.”

Is there is food trend that you wish would go away?
“All ridiculous unsustainable diets. Eat what you enjoy eating but be sensible and listen to your body, if it makes you feel crap, you should probably avoid it.”

Favourite spot for lunch?
“What a question! South Hill, of course! On a summer day overlooking the vineyards, in winter, next to the fireplace.”

South Hill Restaurant

South Hill Restaurant. Image: Appareo

Where is your go-to place to shop for food or ingredients?
“I’m a bit of a bargain hunter, so wherever I can get the best deal!”

Favourite ingredient to cook with right now?
“Fresh basil from the plant I got for Christmas and haven’t managed to kill yet – although how much longer it will survive is anyone’s guess (thank goodness vines are basically weeds!)

Favourite food or wine hero?
“I spend a lot of time driving and consequently listen to a lot of audiobooks. I recently listened to Kitchen Confidential read by the author, Anthony Bourdain. Hero might be a bit strong, but he’s not far off.”

Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain. Image: Foodista

If you were a flavour of ice cream, you would be…
“Dark chocolate – as that is about as rich as I’m ever likely to be.”

If you had R1000 to spend, where would you go or what would you cook?
“I’d probably have to wait for the winter special season for R1000 to be enough, but The Foodbarn would be my first choice – exceptional food and just down the road from home.”

Food Barn

Food Barn. Image:

If you had to eat one food for the rest of your life it would be?
“I just love potatoes, as far as one food stuff goes, they are just so versatile: baked, fried, mashed or roasted, I can’t get enough.”

Your last supper would be…
“A great piece of medium rare fillet with Leigh’s favour creamy pepper sauce with chips and a bottle of Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1991. Yes ’91, I’m living in hope that my last remaining bottle lives up to my memory of it.”

Find out more about South Hill and Sean at or on Sean’s blog. If you pop in for a wine tasting, you can meet Sean in person.