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New World Wine Maker Blog - New World Wine Making Students

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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Whimsical Western Cape Wine Wonderland

The hottest wine topic of September 2018 undoubtedly had to be the annual Cape Wine show. I’ve always wondered what Alice must have seen and felt after falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, and as I walked in to the showroom this year I got a very vivid idea of how she felt.

With the Flagstone carousel slowly spinning to my right, the bright pink ‘One Night Stand’ where the flirty Illimis wines waited towards back of the room and the bright disco ball and western themed tower of the Hemel en Aarde’s wines that shone throughout the room, it was hard to fight off the bewilderment that swiftly overcame me. I took a deep breath and took a step into what seemed like a Western Cape Wine Wonderland.

I started off my wine tasting adventure at the Flagstone stand, which was based on a rotating wooden stand, with pictures of their various wine ranges and winemakers on display. After spending a few minutes on the winding wine stand, I made my way over to the Hemel en Aarde stand, where the winemakers were dressed in what seemed to be 80s themed apparel, sporting mullets (yes, you read that correctly), headbands, scrunchies and bright lumo coloured clothes. I met up with some classmates here, who were equally as enthusiastic about the top quality white wines we had tasted at the stand. The region’s stand had a big, shiny disco ball in the centre, which attracted a lot of attention as the winemakers went on to explain their phenomenal wines. The Cartology (Alheit vineyards) stood out for me, along with some other interesting wine styles such as the Mother Rock Liquid Skin (a skin fermented Chenin). It was a very informative event for any wine-lover to attend, the winemakers pulled out all the stops and showed me that you shouldn’t be afraid to try something innovative with your winemaking.

On to the next region, Swartland! I really did feel like Alice, making her way through the winding roads of Wonderland. The Swartland stand had a Chemistry/Sciency theme, with round bottomed flasks as spittoons and lots of plants growing in erlenmyers, I felt like I was walking into my grade 10 biology class again. Here, we received some very insightful advice from the winemakers, who told us to travel to as many international wine regions as possible and learn as much as possible while we are still young. Their red wines boasted an elegance in their body, with soft tannins and a good length on the palate. I was very excited to taste wines such as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Berocca, Mourvedre and Malbec at these stands because they aren’t commonly made as single varietal wines in South Africa. Additionally, I managed to grab myself a taste of the amazing 99 point (Tim Atkin) ‘T Voetpad white blend at the Sadie Family Wines stand, which undoubtedly blew my socks off.

The Elgin region called to me next, with crisp Sauvignon blancs and fruity pinot noirs that would give the French a run for their money, it was hard not to be impressed! Directly behind the Elgin stand, I spotted an incredibly bright magenta pink stand with the words “One Night Stand” in big, bold black letters. Curiosity didn’t kill the Chesire Cat, so I figured I was safe to approach. Here, I was greeted by the very familiar and friendly face of Lucinda Heyns, the proud producer of Illimis wines. Her Cinsaut and Riesling are showstoppers, and suddenly the stand’s name made sense, because a bottle of either would only last one night in my house! Lucinda also works at the University of Stellenbosch and recently took part in a student driven event called Scion, wherein she inspired many of us with her passion and love for both the vineyard and winemaking process.

Moving deeper into the Wine Wonderland, I found myself at the familiar Durbanville stand (I’m from Durbanville) where I was greeted by another familiar face, Arno Smith (aka Koekdief, because he stole an entire cake from Klein Roosboom Boutique Winery). Here, a classmate (Ronel Heunis) and I tasted his new Saartjie range, which started with the Semillon because his Jack Russel, Saartjie, would go into the vineyard with him and eat the fallen Semillon bunches. We unfortunately could not taste the Semillon because the new vintage has yet to be released, however we did manage to taste the Petit Verdot as well as the Cabernet Franc and Bordeaux Style blend.

A little bit further down the road, Ronel and I stopped at the Neethlingshof and Kanonkop stands, where I was reminded of my great love for red wine while tasting the formidable 100 point Paul Sauer Bordeaux Style blend. I finished off my tasting adventure with the powerful Neethlingshof red wines; their Malbec was a definite showstopper wine and never disappoints, I couldn’t help but to give my mom a call and let her know that she needs to stock up on a few of their wines! The clock chimed 15:00, and I unfortunately had to make my way back out of the rabbit hole (to avoid the afternoon traffic on the N1), but I did not leave disappointed and look very forward to the next Cape Wine Show!

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Q&A that turned into food for thought

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.

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Spring has sprung – Daisies, Darling and Drinking

It’s spring across the southern hemisphere, the sun is trying its best to peak out from behind the thin grey clouds that hang over Cape Town while the Suzuki engines are purring in anticipation for the day’s adventure. My parents recently joined the Suzuki 4×4 club, being an adventure fanatic, I couldn’t resist the offer when they asked me if I’d like to join them.

The day started out at the entrance to Groote Post Farm, where the Suzukis rolled in one by one. We had arrived in the Grand Vitara, thinking there would be a few other Suzukis slightly bigger than the Jimny joining us, we were sorely mistaken. Being the only non-Jimny Suzuki in the club, naturally we stood out like a sore thumb, but the crew were welcoming nonetheless. Mr Duckitt (Yes, that Duckitt) started off the morning by explaining to us that the farm has a large area of natural renosterveld, and through the clearing of alien plant species such as port jackson and rooikrans, they have encouraged a huge bloom of natural flora. The wild flowers on this farm sure gave the west-coast national park a run for its money! With splashes of bright orange, dainty pinks and purples and sunshine yellows, it was hard not to be blown away by the beauty of the flowers. The sun decided to grace us with its presence at about 11:30 am, allowing for the flowers to be viewed in their full, colourful glory.

As we turned our heads to face the daisies while driving past, the white flowery fields could easily have been mistaken for a bit of misplaced snow. We slowly drove along the track through the game camp on the farm, as the farm owner Nick Pentz took the lead. Wildebeest and Zebra were scattered in small herds throughout the camp, with a few Bontebok grazing happily between the brightly coloured daisies. The Springbokkies were very alert and unfortunately took off as soon as they saw us approaching however we were able to sit quietly and watch a few of the youngsters playfully prong and pounce around.

We stopped at the top of a hill that overlooked most of the farm, where Nick enthusiastically explained to us that while the farm may be well known for its wine, other crops such as Lupins and Triticale are also actively grown on the farm. He went on to explain the importance of crop rotation as well as how important it is to conserve indigenous flora on the farm. The farm actively works on the removal of alien trees, during the process they have decided not to burn any removed plant material, instead they pile the material over their old growing area. This prevents regermination of any remaining roots while encouraging a small ecosystem through providing a habitat for small rodents, which eat the seeds of the alien plants. He then explained the layout of his vineyard blocks, as bystanders got very excited at the prospect of a sneaky wine tasting before we continued our journey.

Following the interesting talk presented by Nick, we headed towards the cellar, I was sure that excitement was buzzing all around as we made our way to the parking lot near the cellar. Low and behold, an entire tasting had been set up just for us! The scene was set by the surrounding farm buildings that boasted an old Cape Dutch style, a table was set below an old tree that shaded most of the lawn. A flight of wines were lined up, ready and waiting to be popped and cracked open.

Of the wines we tasted, the 2013 Riesling and the 2013 Merlot definitely stole the show. It became very evident that Groote Post wasn’t only passionate about conservation, but also about the wines they produce. Nick is also very clearly involved in all aspects of the farm’s activities, as he went on to explain the wine making process for each wine we tasted, despite not being the winemaker himself. It was incredibly refreshing to meet someone in the industry who is involved in all aspects of the viticulture, farming and winemaking processes.

After cleaning out the cellar’s 2013 Merlot wine stock, we finally headed to our next destination. We drove along a winding dirt road that lead us past a few farms that also had fields of flowers, bright pops of yellow and orange flickered by as we headed towards Darling. We ended off the tour at the Darling Wildflower show, where the smell of boerewors braais drifted through the music filled atmosphere, the beer and wine stands were the easiest to identify because there were crowds of people buzzing around the tents. All in all, it was a great day and a lovely adventure that I can’t wait to re-visit next year when the flowers pop up again.

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The perfect pair?

There are many different wine pairings that we have come to know and enjoy. Food was made to go with wine and wine was made to go with food. Of course one can have the former or the latter but why would one deny themselves the pure art that forms on the palate when the two are combined. We have so many options presented to us as wine enthusiasts: Chocolate and wine, cheese and wine,  cupcake and wine, biltong and wine, ice cream and wine, toffee and wine, marshmallow and wine, Turkish delight and wine and the list goes on! There have even been sushi and wine and curry and wine pairings! But have you ever heard of music and wine pairing?

I had the pleasure of being invited to a music and wine pairing in Swartland. It was hosted in one of the oldest houses in the Riebeek valley. Stepping into it was like stepping back in time with a modern twist. A Fire burning in the library, the smell of old books and the creek of the hardwood floor.  Chairs set up in front of the Piano, modern art hung on the walls and good acoustics as the piano man nervously tinkled on some keys. I was tentative, music and wine?  How will this work, well let me tell you it’s not an experience I will soon forget.

The music was explained in great detail, the lifts the falls, the extensions and the keys the music was played in. All old classical pieces that were technical and impressive as well as enjoyable. He explained technical jargon:

Allegro – An Italian word referring to a quick and lively tempo. It generally has a very upbeat feel to it.

Baroque – Music ranging from the 1600s to around 1750 is generally described as belonging to the baroque era. Examples of baroque composers include Vivaldi, Bach and Handel.

Crescendo – A gradual increase in volume of the music.

Elegy – A piece of music that expresses grief or sorrow.

Forte – An instruction in sheet music to play loudly; often abbreviated as f.

Harmony – When several notes are played together to form chords in some type of progression, it is known as a harmony. In general, harmonies form a pleasing sound.

Key Signature – In sheet music, each section typically shows a key signature. The key signature is denoted as a combination of flats or sharps to indicate the key in which the piece should be played.

Largo – Largo, translated literally from Italian, means broad. In a musical context, it is an instruction to play slowly.

Legato – When notes are played legato, they are played smoothly so that they flow together seamlessly.

Mezzo – Mezzo means half, and it is used in conjunction with other words. For example, mezzo-forte would mean half as loud as normal.

Nocturne – A piece of music that is evocative of night-time moods, usually sleepy or romantic.

Piano – In music terminology, piano is not referring to the musical instrument but rather the way in which music is played. Piano means that it should be played softly. The word ‘piano’ can a suffix to indicate the degree of softness. Pianissimo (pp) means even softer.

Of course we are all here to read about wine, but it’s important to understand these terms so that you can understand how it pairs with the wine.

Pairing was 6 wines with 6 different pieces of music.  The first one was a White blend, lemon, pale and clear, tropical fruit with wood characteristics on the nose, a complex wine that evolves on the palate. This was paired with a complex piece of music that starts off light and simple but as you get to the middle of the piece it escalates into crescendo, this worked well with the wine as the vanilla and oak flavours developed on the middle of the palate. The music switched to legato as the finish developed on your palate, it was long and lingering and smooth.

A different wine we tried was a Shiraz, it was paired with a Nocturne. The Shiraz was dark and ruby, with cigar box and fresh red fruit on the nose, some caramel with a delicious and brooding dark chocolate on the palate. Perfectly paired with the Nocturne, it painted the image of a woman in a red velvet dress singing jazz in a highly esteemed restaurant. The Music evolved with the wine, some forte keys enhanced the tannins and the piece ending in Pianissimo which tickled on the keys just as the red fruit lingered on the palate for a long and pleasing finish.

An interesting experience that would be appreciated most by music lovers and wine lovers, whether it will become a trend or not is yet to be seen but can you imagine playing your sweetheart that perfect song that reminds you of them while sipping on an equally sweet Noble late harvest. There is so much potential in this idea, not only to enhance the image of the wine industry but also to support our local South African Musicians.

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