A short while ago, a discrete class pruning challenge was presented to us, wherein we each had to prune a row of what seemed like Shiraz vines gone rogue. After many hours (yes, some of us even took a few days) of snipping away at each vine, we finally managed to somewhat restore (or destroy…) the vineyard to a workable condition. These rows were then marked and judged according to skill, and the 6 pruners with the top scores were selected to represent Stellenbosch University at the Felco Pruning Competition in August 2018. Of the 6, the 3 candidates with the highest score were selected for or representing team while the other 6 were trained up – in case someone snipped a finger off, we’d need a backup!

The day of the competition had finally arrived, after weeks of training, our pruners were ready! The crisp morning air filled the lungs of the eager fourth year Stellenbosch students as we made our way down to La Motte’s vineyard. We were eager and ready to cheer on our three selected pruning champions as they prepared to take on the Elsenburg and CPUT students. Stellenbosch, being the underdogs for the last few years, had not lost all hope of winning, despite our formidable opponents.

The competition began with each competitor selecting a row, our three students (Cara Kroep, Anandi Theunissen and Francois Burger) were divided between rows 56 and 57. The supporting crowd (my fellow class mates and I) paced in anticipation, up and down along the outskirts of the two rows as we held on to our hopes for victory. The pruners filled the air with a snipping melody as the workers and students sped through the block, with only an odd ant’s nest or spider here and there to slow them down not much else stood in their way.

Anandi, painting a perfect picture of precision and focus as she made each cut, moved through her row, carefully analysing each and every bearer before making a decision. Francois sped through his row, being the first of the Stellenbosch students to finish his pruning, while making sure that each and every cut was smooth and clean. Cara, only slightly faster than Anandi, was calmly and quietly moving through her vakkies, also carefully looking at each and every point before making a cut. An ants’ nest, quaintly nestled between the two cordon arms, presented no challenge for Anandi, even when our Demi (student lecturer) poked the nest out of curiosity and all the ants came swarming out. She continued to prune despite the ant hoards marching towards her hands as she worked.

The class stood around, eagerly awaiting results; the heat was on, we had to finally show Elsenburg and CPUT that we’re not all about the science (not all the time anyways)! Our impatience grew as we waited for the judge to move through the rows, we had to know the results! After the marking and deliberation, we all sat down and munched on a few boerewors rolls and cold drinks, excitement and suspense buzzing between conversations, while the scores were tallied.

In the previous few years, Stellenbosch has had students place, but we have unfortunately never been able to out-compete the more practical Elsenburg and CPUT students. The pressure was on this year, all of the students came prepared for a challenge. We gathered around the quart yard, all holding thumbs for a win. Third place was called up, row 60, an Elsenburg student. Immediately our little strand of hope seemed to dwindle; second place was called up – row 59, also an Elsenburg student. By this point we had almost lost our hope to finally claim the title of 2018’s student pruning champion, “Row 57”, Jaco called. Nobody came forward, Anandi looked very confused for a moment, before three of the Stellenbosch students practically nudged her forward, excitedly telling her, “It’s you! It’s you!”.

 

 

At long last, Stellenbosch University had finally claimed the trophy! Our class all huddled around our three competitors, who all displayed extraordinary skills in the vineyard during the competition, our smiles all beaming. I can confidently say I know exactly who I am calling to come and help me in the vineyard one day! We were all incredibly proud of all 6 team members, who poured a lot of time and effort into preparing for the competition. Elsenburg and CPUT’s students also displayed remarkable technique in the vineyard, I was impressed by the speed and precision executed by all three of the competing institute’s students. Felco definitely gave us an amazing opportunity, allowing us to see students and professional pruners from around the country at work. I look forward to the future of viticulture and winemaking in South Africa, with such talented individuals leading the way.