By new world winemaking student Karla Hoogendijk

Anyone who knows me would tell you that I am certainly not one of the greatest wine connoisseurs that you will come across on the street. In fact, I am not even a wine maker, nor did I qualify as one. Why am I writing this blog then, you may ask. Well, I believe it has got something to do with my passion for this exciting and ever-growing industry we find ourselves in and the awareness I would like to create about the symbiotic impact each role player has on one another.

I recently completed my degree at Stellenbosch University majoring in Viticulture and Soil Science. While growing up, I was one of those little girls that enjoyed playing in the dirt and making gooey mud cakes to entertain my friends with – much to my mother’s despair – but little did I know that this would one day blossom into such an exciting career opportunity. In fact, up until my second year at varsity I didn’t even know the discipline of soil science existed. Since then I have developed a great passion for the measly soil substrate we so often take for granted.

Some people believe a soil scientist or consultant’s job entails classifying soils, generating a soil map with a few clicks of a mouse and making recommendations for soil amendments where needed. Truth is, the average soil scientist needs to do bit of homework before he or she steps out into the field. Underlying geology, landscape position and previous soil uses and preparations are all factors that need to be taken into account even before a soil scientist climbs into a profile pit. And these days they also need to be up to speed with the latest agricultural technology. Gone are the days where your only tools were your trusty hammer and bucket for taking soil samples. Today you have to have a basic understanding of GIS software, remote sensing and drone technology. These are of course all tools to help make your job easier and maybe even a little more interesting- because nothing is more dull than a bleached A horizon (my apologies for the bad soil science joke…)

With my academic roots in the soil, I am strong believer that quality can only improve from the ground up. We all know the saying “a wine maker can make bad wine from good grapes, but not the other way around”, and the same goes to say for soil. Without the correct soil preparations and adjustment of the soil chemistry, a viticulturist will never be able to produce grapes of uniform quality and even ripeness. And that will evidently leave the wine maker with the sour grapes. Therefore, it goes without saying that the soil scientist, viticulturist and wine maker need to be on the same page from the get go as to what the desired wine style is going to be for a particular block and how exactly they are going to get there. In this way, unnecessary corrections can be avoided in the future.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know much about the wine making process (I’ll leave that to the professionals), but I certainly have a good idea of what it takes to grow the best quality grapes to produce the highest quality wines. I believe every individual in this industry has something unique to offer, be it theoretical knowledge, practical experience or just plain old innovative thinking. And by combining all of our different skill sets, how can we not be excited about what this industry has to offer?