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New World Wine Maker Blog - New World Wine Making Students

Pruning Competition 2018

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.

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Mix it up with wine mixers

Written by Geena Whiting. 

To some it may seem sacrilegious to mix wine with anything, yet for others the mixing of  red  wine with cola is standard practice. Although I myself fit into the first group of wine drinkers, I have explored my horizons with some delicious wine mixers/spritzers/cocktails. If you are as ready for your holiday as I am, you also need a bottomless cocktail on a beach somewhere. Cocktails/mixers can be quite pricey and I can’t be the only one who has thought “it would be cheaper just to make it myself”.  And you would be right! Here are a dew easy recipes for wine mixers for you to enjoy these holidays!

Ginger snap with a twist: A ginger lime spritzer


10 cm piece of peeled, finely chopped fresh ginger
60 ml of fresh lime juice
15 ml golden syrup
A bottle of your favourite brut sparkling white wine


Add ginger, lime and syrup to a blender with ½ cup of water and topped up with ice.
blend until the ice is broken into a beautiful slurry.
pour the mixture out in equal amounts into 4 large wine glasses.
pour your favourite bubbly over the ice mixture and enjoy!

We don’t drink pink drinks: rose cocktail


120ml  of dry / off dry  rosé
10 ml  gin
60  ml  ruby-red grapefruit juice
1 Grape fruit
1 rosemary sprig


Cut a slice of grape fruit and remove the skin and rind. Place it at the bottom of a lowball glass. Fill the glass ¾ full with crushed ice. Add the rose’, gin and grape fruit juice with a sprig of rosemary fir relish.

Keep it simple: White wine spritzer:


1 bottle Chenin blanc or unwooded chardonnay
500 ml Soda water
75 ml Lime cordial

mix together and serve!

This recipe is great because you can replace the cordial with fruit juice or use fruit bits such as pomegranate pieces to class up your drink.

It smells like Christmas: Glühwein:

1 bottle of bold dry red wine
1 cup water
1 cup orange juice
1 large orange, sliced (pips removed)
1/2 cup sugar
4 whole cloves
1 nutmeg, about 10 gratings
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, halved


Over medium heat in a medium sized pot, pour in sugar and and water, then add the slices of orange and the orange juice. Add the vanilla bean, cloves,  cinnamon stick, and nutmeg gratings. Bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour. The liquid will reduce, so after around 30 minutes, add in about a half cup of wine. This will make a syrup.

When your syrup is ready turn the heat down to low and pour in the bottle of wine. Bring back to a gentle simmer and heat for about 5 minutes or depending on how much alcohol you want to burn off you can simmer a bit longer. Ladle it into glasses and serve warm.
There are hundreds if not thousands of recipes to look at. With all of these the ratios can be altered and changed. Explore and be brave with your choices of fruit and wine cultivar.


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In with the Old, Out with the New

The morning started out like any other mid-harvest’s would, grapes coming in by the ton, the press humming in the background as the shoosh of the crusher and destemer droned on throughout the cellar. After a few days of fermentation, the grenache blanc skin-fermented grapes, as well as two barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon had to be pressed. But with only one large 500l barrel and two 225l barrels to squeeze, the large presses could not be used.

Phone-a-friend is a very common and well adapted phrase in the wine industry, and so that’s just what the team did. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to source any kind of press mid-harvest, but let me tell you it certainly is not an easy task! At long last we had found one, graciously loaned to us by the University of Stellenbosch in exchange for a few bottles of MCC for the vinotique. A few hours later, the press had arrived and the commotion had started; I was still inside the cellar doing ballings – when your list of fermenting tanks reaches the second page, it tends to take a while to do.

As I had finished my routine sugar readings, I noticed a small crowd gathering outside of the cellar. I couldn’t help but wonder what all the fuss was about, being an inquisitive young student I couldn’t resist taking a peak. It was the press – but it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. There stood an ancient basket press, wooden slates stained from what looked like a century’s worth of harvesting. Chipped fire-truck red rims revealed some wear and tear over its years of use, while the wooden stacking blocks’ slightly lighter shade of brown further alluded to this machine’s old age.

Right, now to assemble the bloomin’ thing. The wooden frame is first lifted up onto the metal base, while the small metal pegs are twisted and hooked into the sides. Okay, so now that the basket part is assembled, what next? It took a team of 4 men and one very confused student (me) to figure out that the twisting mechanism on top of the press needed to be moved up – it seems like a rather simple task but when you’re standing there wondering “how do we put these do-hikkies into the thingy?”, you realise this may take some time.

Eventually, we placed the slanted, dinged up metal slates into there slots that made the lever mechanism work. What next, though? You’d think that logic would tell you to put the actual lever arm into its socket, so that you can actually swing this whole mechanism up or down with the lever – but for some strange reason it took a solid 15 minutes of staring at the press to figure this out.

With the press assembled, all that was left was to pour the grapes into the basket and crank the lever; upon quick analysis of the press I soon realised I’d need to stack wooden blocks ontop of the circular wooden plates, in order to exert enough pressure onto the grapes. And so, the jenga-block like stacking began, four levels up we stopped and began to crank the lever. After about 30 minutes or so, you stop feeling anything in your shoulder which is great news, because you stop feeling the pain too!

After one or two slight over-flows we soon realised that you can’t crank the lever too quickly, unless you’d like to create something that resembles a mass berry homicide scene, with pulp and juicy bits squirting out everywhere. In the words of the tortoise (to the hare), “slow and steady wins the race”. After the first load was done, it took a further 20 minutes to figure out that I had to reverse the metal slates and crank the lever again, this time slightly faster, in order to move the pressing mechanism up again. After some struggling, I realised some grease or oil would be needed to make the slates slightly more mobile as the lever was cranked. Who needs gym when you can get a full arm workout at work?

Being a student, we are mostly taught how to use more modern technology as most cellars use electrically operated basket presses or large balloon/bag/pneumatic presses. I feel that, although learning the new world winemaking techniques is incredibly beneficial to the younger generation of winemakers, it was refreshing to be reminded of how winemaking was done back in the day. There’s nothing like a day of good, old-fashioned pressing to humble you and bring you closer to the rich history and heritage that winemaking holds. When the machines fail, it’s a handy skill for any winemaker to know how the older technology and older techniques used in winemaking work. It’s also a lot more hands on and personal, your wine truly starts to feel like something you’ve put blood, sweat and tears into – figuratively of course (I don’t think SAWIS would approve in a more literal sense). Out with the new and in with the old (but only sometimes…); it was an incredibly valuable learning experience for me.

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Excitement around the SA Young Wine Show 2018

The 2018 harvest is out. It was comprised of sweat, tears, hard work and promises good quality wines. Winemakers can enter their best young wines to participate in the Young Wine Show. As winemakers taste and filter through their young wines, they might even discover a South African Champion.

This prestigious event and show dates back to 1833. South African wine making regions like Robertson, Worcester, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Oranje-Vaal, Olifants River, Swartland and Little Karoo are allowed to enter their wines in the competition.

Each year Agri Expo, the host and sponsors of this event, invites students from the university of Stellenbosch to attend not only the wine tasting of the best young wines but also the prize-giving gala event. The event took place on the 25th of August and I was one of the lucky nine students that got invited to attend.

I knew it was time to prepare my palate for some good wines and to put on my best dress and heels. For weeks my class mates and I waited for the event to come with childlike excitement. Finally, the event was about to start and exceeded my wildest expectations within the first five minutes.

We arrived, humble and excited at the Town Hall in Stellenbosch and found ourselves seated amongst the most respected winemakers and connoisseurs in South Africa. We enjoyed some of the best wines and the most exquisite gourmet meal. It was magical.

By the end of the night, just before dessert, winners were announced. Judges were tasked to taste 1 680 different wines, out of which 165 titles were chosen, including SA Champion wines, class winners and gold medals. Wellington wines’ wooded Pinotage claimed the General Smuts trophy and is thus the best young South African wine of the 2018 harvest. Orange River cellars’ Keimoes received the highest points for all five their wines entered and walked away with the Pietman Hugo Trophy.

South African Champion trophies were awarded to farms like Bon Courage for their Natural Sweet white wine as well as their Noble late harvest. De Wetshof Chardonnay, Spier wines’ wooded Chenin Blanc and La Motte’s Semillion were the white wine champions.

Young red wine champions of 2018 were all wooded wines and included wines from Babylonstoren Stellenbosch Hills, Darling Cellars, Le Bonheur Estate and KWV.

Needless to say, dessert was delicious. The evening ended with inspirational speeches and a good shuffle on the dance floor. The 2018 BSc Viticulture and Oenology class left the event feeling enriched, inspired and excited for their futures in the industry. It was good to see that it’s not all just gumboots and stained hands, but also glamorous and enriching.

I am proud to be part of such an industry where farms all receive an equal chance to showcase the fruits of their hard labour. It is no secret that the 2018 harvest was a challenging one, but good faith and perseverance turned this harvest into a championship harvest. The Young Wine show of 2018 was truly an unforgettable event.

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Where do we go from here?

As the end of the year rapidly approaches us, some of my colleagues are bracing themselves. They have completed their undergrad and (trusting that exams go well) they will be joining the professional industry next year.

If you had asked us what we wanted to be one day at the beginning of the journey that is studying, we would have all said we want to be winemakers. Now that  the end is near for some that question seems to be more grey. In general they have a good grasp of what we are doing for the 2019 harvest. After those 6 months it is anyone’s guess.

So what actually are our options?

The first one seems quite obvious: continue studying. The research bug hit some of us hard when doing our final project reports. The world we live in is fascinating and understanding even a fraction of it in detail is a privilege not afforded to all. The thing about going to higher qualifications is that at the least it is another two years at university. For some this is exactly what they want. For others, after graduation, you are going to be left staring at a comical poof of dust shaped like them as they are already at the airport waiting for their flights.

The second option is to actually go and be a winemaker. Once again this is loaded, you don’t normally just waltz out of university and straight into the head winemaker position. This is for a good reason: we simply do not have the experience to handle it. Being in charge of a few hundred barrels or one massive tank is one thing, being in charge of a whole cellar is another barrel of wine entirely. Most of whom are doing harvests next year are becoming harvest assistants,  a better position than an intern and the benefit of being able to come home and relax, not work on research reports or literature reviews.

Now looking at more alternative options, for all of these extra courses will need to be taken, some of us have already taken them, others are researching options and some of us think these are horrible ideas. I give you these options, dear reader, not only to show you how diverse our chosen industry is, but how diverse we as individuals are.

Wine marketer: The background of our degree gives us an amazing understanding of the intrinsic product and allows us to see the broader picture of the industry and its needs.

Auditors: *gulp* Not the most loved people in industry, however there input is a necessity to allow us to stay up to standard and comply with the law. Some people have a nack for this sort of business, and are wholeheartedly pursuing this career path.

Sommeliers: It always seemed glamourous to stand around drinking wine and convincing that guest with a heavy pocket that the 2009 is better than the 2011. To become a somm you need to train, a lot, and the training doesn’t end, you have to keep practicing and reading and staying up to date with new trends and new winemakers that are shaking up the industry.

Wine buyer/seller: For resturants, shopping malls, wealthier members of society, a wine buyer is an important thing. Bench marking the standard that your guests will drink and going to find new and interesting wines for you to enjoy and sell. The admin behind this requires skill and dedication, it must be easy to get lost under all the paper work!

Viticulteralists: If working outside in the blazing sun for 8 hours of the day in summer sounds like your cup of tea then by all means go for it. Don’t let my bias taint your curiosity. There are many things you can do in part of industry: grafting new vines, planting new vines, growing and selling grapes, management of farms etc. I must say the idea of cross breeding a new vine and immortalizing myself through its name doesn’t sound half bad! Some of my class mates will go into this part of industry and revolutionize the way we plant grape vines forever (no pressure).

I hope if there are future prospective students reading this; it has given you some insight into what you can do with a Viticulture and Oenology degree. For those who are in industry that have been stuck in a rut: look around you, there are opportunities everywhere! For the rest of my readers: I hope this has given you some insight  into what we can do in this diverse and amazing industry.

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The Cellar Workout Routine

3 reps of 2 set. 5 minutes rest. Repeat. There is no need for a gym contract while working in the cellar. Upon completion of my first harvest I felt fit, strong and healthy. As the grapes arrive I jump unto a barrel and start scraping the berries out manually with a plastic fork exercising my calves and biceps. After tons of berries has successfully been loaded into the press, I jump off the barrel and start mixing yeast. The more grapes you have, the more juice you will have and the more yeast is needed. I mix and mix and mix exercising my fore arm muscles with the image of Popeye popping in to my brain more often that wished for.

After the lag phase of the yeast is completed I move on to exercising my gluteus and thighs, carrying up 2 buckets of 20kg each up the stairs to the lifted red wine fermentation tanks. I add the yeast, take a breath and run down the stairs to bring up the next two buckets of yeast. Up and down the stairs, 3 reps of 2 sets.

After the yeast is added, I exercise my brain. Each day monitoring fermentation by taking sugars and temperatures and neatly updating fermentation graphs. A brief rest is taken as the moon shines in the sky. As the sun rises I’m already doing cardio, running through the vines and picking grapes. The whole cycle starts again. Not to mention the sun-bed free tan the sun offers.

Pump overs offer colour extraction not only to the fermenting red grapes, but also to my glowing cheeks. Moving juice filled pipes from tank to tank to successfully wet all red grapes tones my back whilst increasing wine quality. 3 reps of 2 sets.

After fermentation, I carry on to experience my abs on the bottling line. Bend down, pick up bottles, do a slight twist and place the bottles on the bottling line. Over and over and over again. As bottling finishes, six freshly bottled bottles are packed into a wine box and sorted neatly in a big warehouse, offering my biceps a good challenge. 3 reps of 2 sets. Repeat.

Harvest is a crazy, adrenaline, endorphin filled period. Running on excitement and very little sleep is what every winemaker and intern goes through while making wine. For me, the biggest perk was the free workout the cellar offered. A daily full body workout whilst exercising your brain and enriching yourself with hands-on knowledge of making wine, being a harvest intern eating guilt free lunches and enjoying much deserved ice cold beer, is a privilege.

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