The art of being a winemaker requires us to be versatile enough to get down and dirty in the cellar, and then completely transform into suave socialites flaunting ourselves at the Veritas awards. Many spectators only know the sleek, well groomed winemakers, wearing bow ties, as opposed to the hidden cellar ninjas that we prove to be.
My first encounter of this phenomenon, where I was truly exposed to the industry as a ‘professional’, was at Elsenburg’s annual wine launch, where our 2015 wines were showcased. We, as students, were expected to introduce our wines, with some vinification specifications, to a mighty audience. This audience consisted of various well established winemakers from the industry, including Minister Alan Winde. A vast group of members from the audience listened to us cautiously explaining our wines, while the respective food pairings where underway. An interactive and very successful event had come and passed, and left us with great exposure to the industry as future contributing role players.
As ‘winemakers’ we are exposed to a vast assortment of people at winemaking events like the Young Wine Show, and Caroline’s Red Wine Review, to name a few. We get to taste the most prestigious wines our country has to offer, leaving us with an endless desire to reach new heights of our own – both nationally and internationally. However, one does notice certain people at these events, both overdressed and underdressed, who consider these events to be ‘selfie-filled’ wine festivals - a warm-up to the after party. Interestingly, I once had an experience where it was the latter that yielded the most “fruitful” conversation concerning the tannin structure of the Sauvignon Blanc we were sipping on. Yes, this actually happened. You seem to develop an ability to network and socialize relatively quickly the more you frequent these gatherings.
My personal highlight attending these events is to see the very unique and interactive relationships that winemakers have with each other, and the level of mutual respect they have amongst themselves. It reminds me more of a group of friends coming together for a ‘braai’, than a competitive, business orientated gathering. As you walk through the crowds you are guaranteed to walk into a familiar face, whether it is a fellow wine student from a different university, or a winemaker you met prior to this occasion. Having a ten minute conversation with a winemaker you had only just met leads to him/her knowing your name, your history, your number and, more often than not, a killer contact to use in your future ventures.
To me, these are the environments that stimulate the need for one’s own identity and creativity. The choice of area of specialisation, the style of philosophy you will follow, and what you would do to be refreshing and unique in order to stand out in the sea of competition are essential. Tasting through the same cultivars produced in different regions, made by different artist with their own signature, opens your mind up to the endless possibilities of what you could become and what your own creation would look like one day, as well as how you would get there. These big decisions all fall under “adulting” which is a colloquial term used for the passage of time that takes place between the transition from student to young professional, a dreaded period of the unknown. We, as students, all know it’s coming, but we continue to deny it ‘til the last minute. Nevertheless, your final year is inevitable – ask me, I know. Finding harvest work for the next year is the first part of the quest, followed by having to manage ones own finances and plagued by lingering thoughts of not being under the blanket of your parents’ care for much longer. The struggle is real.
I cannot wait to be at the receiving end of the Veritas Awards as a winemaker, and looking back at these memories building up to it and saying, “Damn, what an unforgettable adventure”. This is only the beginning…