I am from the north of South Africa, the eclectic city of Johannesburg. My childhood is filled with memories of tall buildings and I am convinced that I spent a third
of my adolescence stuck in traffic. When I share with people that I study winemaking at Stellenbosch University, the statement is often met with great disbelief.
There is the assumption that I enjoy wine in almost all my classes and that my practical sessions are spent on some of the most beautiful wine farms in the Cape. Some cannot believe that what I do is an actual science and goes far beyond playful grape stomping.
Compared to most other degree courses and training programs, my academic experience is one of the most unconventional. I will admit that I do taste a fair share of wines for my educational benefit, but not to the extent that my peers would like to imagine. On some days I resemble a medical student, dressed up in my lab coat and testing the pinking potential of white wines. On other days I identify soil profiles in some of the most precious areas in the Western Cape. As a Viticulture and Oenology student (yes that is the fancy term for what I study), my opinion of wines is highly regarded within my circle of friends. And sometimes, maybe too often, they insist that I share some of my finest gems.
For the first half of this year, I completed a six month industry internship on a small boutique farm. The internship experience aims to provide fourth year students with a significant amount of practical exposure in the cellar and in the vineyard. There aren’t many words to describe a first harvest. I was the cellar skivvy who scrubbed floors, rehydrated yeast for fermentation, carried lugs of grapes and I loved it! I sowed the seeds for the cover crop, pruned till I blistered and went fifty shades of brown. There are skills I wish I could bullet point on my CV like “barrel gymnast “, because you know, stacked barrels are tricky to refill and clean. A harvest is the quickest way to lose weight and build muscle, everyone else have got it all wrong. Working in the cellar and in the field is a hands on approach. One that suitably marries the theoretical principles that we learnt over the years with practical experience.
My experiences through studying this course are exciting and different, but my academic life is one that all students can relate to. It is similar in regard that I too have class from eight to four almost every day. My evaluations and assignments require a considerable amount of time and effort. The field of research and product development is full of opportunity. Studying this degree has provided me with an equal amount of fun and intellectual stimulation. It is a great conversation starter and provides a picturesque background to my life. I can appreciate the hard work and time that goes into crafting one bottle. From the laborers to the viticulturist, the winemaker and then the companies that develop the products used in cellars, the approach to winemaking is like the “it takes a whole village to raise a child” mantra. I am learning every day, that it takes maybe more than a village to produce the good wine that I enjoy on a Sunday afternoon.