Have you ever had to convince someone to like wine?
Recently I had the opportunity to talk to Matric students about the wonderful industry we are a part of. Some of them had already made up their minds: winemaking was not for them. Others couldn’t take Oenology for religious regions, and others still displayed no interest because they have simply never seen or tasted wine.
They had many questions where I actually had to contemplate why we do what we do and how we do it, and why certain traditions/trends still exist.
Why do you study what you study? When I was younger my parents presented me with a glass of wine to taste. Looking back now it was a full bodied blend with good fruit concentration and well integrated tannins, but to my young uneducated palate it was burny, spicy and generally just unpleasant. I read the label and it read as follows: An elegant full bodied red with flavours of mulberry, cranberry and vanilla oak spices. I remember being furious! False advertising! “if I were a winemaker I would make sure that my wine tastes like exactly what it says on the bottle”. This curiosity and outrage stayed with me so when it came time to choosing my major it was an easy choice. I now know the specifics and technicalities of wine making and my palate has developed to the point where I could probably taste those berries and vanilla in the wine, but I often ask myself: if I had enjoyed that wine, would I still be studying what I study?
What was harvest like? Harvest was one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced in my life. There are many things in theory that they do not teach you about the practice of wine making, for example the hours, no one tells you that sometimes you will have eighteen or even twenty hour days. No one tells you how heavy barrels can be or how many times you will have to measure the balling and stir the same barrel. And yet they also leave out how satisfying it is to walk into the cellar each morning and smell the progress of the different tanks, or when a barrel that has been lagging finally finishes fermenting. See harvest is something you have to go an experience.
What are the lectures like? Well first year is very general, going through the sciences and maths basics is tedious but very important and not to be underestimated. The highlight of first year is starting with sensorial analysis, learning how to taste and drink wine. Isolating the flavours and flavonoids in class is still one of the highlights of my university career.
What is industry like? Our industry is romantic and industrious at the same time. It has untapped potential that has a broad horizon. As graduates we can go into Winemaking, Viticulture, wine marketing, being a sommelier, wine buying and selling, biotechnology, not to mention the massive opportunities we have in the hospitality industry and that is just to name a few. You will learn a lot very quickly and the more you know the more you realise how little you know.
What is your favourite part about your course? Wine making is difficult and challenging. It forces you to think on your feet and solve problems more quickly than they appear. At the end of the day holding something in your hands that you have followed through from the beginning to the end, that you can enjoy with your friends and family, it is one of the most satisfying feelings that you can experience.
I don’t know if I managed to inspire any of them to study what I do. Some of them have never tasted wine before and when they asked me what wine tasted like I thought to myself: ‘how do you explain a rainbow to someone who cannot see’. Wine is as complex and diverse as the wine industry. I am proud to be a part of it.
I guess I won’t know if I convinced any of them to study Viticulture and Oenology, but the experience taught me that sometimes it is important to just sit back with a good glass of wine and take stock of what it is we really do, why we do it and more importantly how we are preparing potential winemakers and viticulturists for this hard, crazy, brilliant industry we work in.