Dr. Yair Safriel is a clinician, clinical trialist, analyst, teacher and entrepreneur with a passion for nurturing innovation and sharing it with others.
While a student, he nurtured a passion for wine by working as a cellar hand at Rustenberg, one of South Africa’s preeminent estates. Etienne Le Riche was the chief winemaker at the time in Rustenberg (who subsequently opened his own label making arguably the best Cabernet in South Africa) and Hans Vinding Diers was visiting assistant at the time (now owner and winemaker at Bodega Noemia Patagonia making some of the best Malbecs in Argentina).
Later, Yair would go on to work at the University of Cape Town with a grant from Duggie Jooste of Klein Constantia, successfully mapping out the genetic fingerprints of different cultivars. Through this project, Yair traveled extensively in the wine lands through many great vineyards to analyze vines.
Yair then moved to the United States and studied neuroradiology at the State University of New York and then at Yale University. He was a partner at an imaging firm in Minneapolis and founded a Radiology Contract Research Organization. Now living in The Tampa Bay Florida, Yair is a partner in a radiological imaging firm.
The belief in the quality of South African terrior never left and after a fortunate meeting with a South African merchant and winemaker, Yair and his wife Lynne established Safriel House.
Yair likes reading cellar manuals and recommends reading "Making Good Wine" by Bryce Crossley Rankine, "Concepts in Wine Technology" by Yair Margalit and "Cooperage for Winemakers" by Geoffery Schahinger.
My Wine Journey
I am an unusual winery owner. For one, I started young, in fact below drinking age. No, it wasn't the alcohol that fascinated me. It was the meeting of art and science drew that me. I came at it with a thirst for learning. In a world where Coca Cola tastes the same everywhere and every Olive Garden looks the same, I was fascinated by how a vineyard can produce totally different wines depending on the year and the handling by a winemaker. I had good enough grades to get accepted to medical school but the fascination with winemaking pulled at me. Nature and agriculture run deep in our family so straight out of high school, I wrote to every wine estate that I admired and worked a series of jobs on some of the best wine farms. This was back in the nineties and they were making wines using traditional methods: hand harvest, manual mixing of the grapes, natural yeasts. Those were very beautiful wines they made, full of personality and character.
Through a few twists and turns, I became a foreign correspondent and did eventually finish medical school, residency and fellowship. Over time, I realized that the wines I was seeing were changing. They were becoming the same at every store, like the Coca Cola and Olive Garden. Not bad wines, just the same everywhere. I also realized that a lot of wines were becoming very expensive, not always related to their quality. Speaking to friends in the wine trade, I realized that we have a big problem in the wine industry in this country. Here’s the thing... The large majority of grape growers sell their grapes to large corporate wine companies. Because of this the wine industry is trapped in a cycle of commercial wine production that is for the most part controlled by massive wine conglomerates that want to pay the cheapest price possible for the grapes. These are the 'brand' wines you see everywhere. This leads to a culture of grape growers ending up growing what they know will sell, which often means focusing on quantity and not quality.
So our family, went back to our roots and started Safriel House to help change this cycle. We find the amazing vineyards which the insiders know about but are destined to go into the conglomerate wine ocean, and make those into individual, amazing wines. I can explain the difference between our wine and mass marketed wines like this: you can get a good plate of food from a chain restaurant but when you get food made with care and love with fresh ingredients at a traditional trattoria by the proprietor chef, it tastes better. You can TASTE the difference in our wines. People agreed and said that we have something special and that’s how we kicked off. Suddenly, we were in the wine business and not always knowing how to make ourselves heard amongst the corporate giants other than what we knew about beautiful vineyards and classic winemaking.
And that brings us to you, the reader. Breaking the vicious cycle and the disconnect between quality grape growers and consumers is where you can have an impact. So when you open a bottle of Safriel House (or other independent wine) with your friends, you can tell them about the family business that really appreciates your support.