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New World Wine Maker Blog - New World Wine Making Students

The one where we tried to make wine

By winemaking student Geena Whiting.

I grew up in KwaZulu Natal, on a small holding that was a hodgepodge of different agricultural sectors. We had chickens that ran around and horses and cows that roamed. Fields of lavender and tea tree that left the air smelling sweet and fresh. A veggie garden that when given attention provided delicious veggies but in general it was a space for wild herbs and rouge mielies to grow.  Eight dogs that were supposed to patrol the farm, but spent most of their days lying on the stoop (or to my mother’s irritation) on our carpets and couches.

We also planted 12 grape vines, that over the years had been left to grow wildly and every second winter or so they were hacked back, to what the untrained person would have been considered as pruning. The leaves were big and the grape flesh was sweet, the skins too tannic to eat. To this day I have no idea what cultivar it was.

This was the year my mother decided “If we have grapes, we may as well have wine too”. Easier said than done mom.  We harvested on a Saturday morning, our first error was not harvesting early enough, in the sweltering Durban summer it felt like it was 38 °C at 10 in the morning the hot African sun beating down on our skin, sweat beading in the furrows of our foreheads and the humidity bordering on the stereotypical. We set about our task of harvesting, having no idea the balling of the grapes or the acid levels, we had just decided they had been up there for long enough. The leaves around the bunch zone had not been cleared so it was a lot like playing hide and seek with the grape bunches.

Eventually all of the grapes had been harvested and in the midday heat we washed our feet and proceeded to do the overly romanticized grape stomping. I recall initially stepping very lightly as I was scared of being stung by a bee that may have been resting in between the grapes.  Eventually I found my courage and started to stomp vigorously, all the while the grape must was being exposed to temperatures above 26 °C and excessive air contact.

The 80 litre yield of must and skins were then transferred to white buckets with lids, and the yeast was rehydrated by my mother and added. I have no idea how she went about the rehydration, but we bought one of those “make-your-own-wine” kits, and she seemed confident that all was done correctly. The buckets were then stored in the broom closet under the stairs and left for who knows how long.

I recall when we bottled that the wine reeked of vinegar and sherry and was so high in alcohol it burned to swallow. There were no fruit or other flavours and it seemed pointless to bottle it and call it wine. To change the old saying: when life gives you off –wine, make moonshine! That is exactly what we ended up doing. Distilling it off and getting the alcohol and adding cordials made from the fruit trees on the farm.

From a wine making point of view, so many things went wrong; I don’t even think we knew what malic acid was, let alone that we must conduct MLF to get rid of it. I know so much more and could probably make a drinkable wine out of that unknown cultivar on my childhood farm.

And yet knowing how to do things correctly cannot make up the fond memories of the process, sneaking around and opening the buckets to smell the wine,  gripping my father’s arm so I didn’t fall over while stomping the grapes, our dogs trying to eat the berries as we harvested them.  There is space for automatization in our cellars; it is necessary to take our industry to the future; however there must also be space for experiences such as the one in my childhood. Wine is like history in a bottle, we must make history while making wine.

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A Glass of Adventure

By Jenna Higgins.

Taking long drives out to wine regions outside of Stellenbosch happens to be one of my favourite pass-time activities, so when my dad called me up saying he’d like to take a drive out to Tulbagh, I couldn’t resist. Needless to say, I was in control of the music as we set off on our little adventure. It’s amazing to see how green the farms are looking again, and how the dams are slowly but surely starting to look less like sink holes and ponds, and more like actual dams!

I had previously been in contact with a young winemaker in the region, Dirk Swanepoel, who has recently taken to starting up his own label under his family name, Swanepoel Wines. The farm itself boasts a rustic feel, with original farm buildings dating back to 1848. The cellar, which had once been a cattle shed, closely resembles that of an age-old Tuscan style, with the original stone and clay built walls still visible. Large trusses paint the perfect backdrop to what is soon to be a wine bar, while the original farm dwelling now houses an assortment of barrels while the wine ages to perfection.

My father and I were lead through the cellar as Dirk explained his winemaking process, it was very heartening to see a young winemaker combine both new world and old world winemaking techniques to create his wines. In the barrel room, we tasted a crisp, dry rosé as well as a fruity Pinotage with the most divine floral (violet) notes. The family owned farm houses an assortment of cultivars such as Mourvedre, Grenache noir, Pinotage, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, making it the perfect farm for Rhône style wines. The vineyards are nestled at the foot of a fynbos-covered mountain range, where guests are greeted by an old vineyard roaming thoroughbred named Reapy (Reap the Wind). Dirk’s father, Jerry Swanepoel, has also dabbled in winemaking, using the farm’s robust cultivars to shape full-bodied, hearty red wines; my dad and I were privileged to be allowed to taste some of these older vintages too.

Leading up past one of the blocks, is a recently constructed hiking trail that sends explorers on an adventure into the mountain, which forms a part of the Saronsberg Mountain Range. The farm strives to preserve the natural fynbos growth, which includes renosterbos (Renosterveld), king proteas, buchu and many other species. As my dad and I eagerly started off on the trail, we quickly came to realise how unfit we were, however the trail was actually incredibly hiker-friendly and very easy to complete. After 45 minutes of walking, we came across an old kraal (pen) built by the Cape Khoisan many years ago. Dirk explained that they used to build these small pens for the buck/game they captured on the mountain.

After an additional 15 minutes of hiking, we eagerly took a breath and rested at the end point of the hike – a massive yellow wood tree. It must have been ancient, and immediately reminded me of the kind of tree you would see in a Lord of the Rings movie. The tree towers over a small, flat plain in the mountain, painting the perfect backdrop for a picnic and a glass of rosé! Along the way up, my dad and I also noticed the abundance of birdlife on the farm, beautifully coloured sugar birds hovered around the blooming proteas as we walked by. We also noticed how fragrant the fynbos on the farm was, as we passed buchu plants that were in flower and immediately recognised the familiar smell.

On the way back to the cellar we were awestruck by the breath-taking views of the Tulbagh region. The view seemed like a painting, with vineyards rolling out on foothills for what seemed like kilometres upon kilometres, a gentle blanket of cloud cover folding over the tips of the surrounding mountains with rays of sunlight highlighting the greenness of the neighbouring farmland. I have to admit, the descent was easy with wine as my motivation – we did the wine tasting after the hike, thinking it would serve as a well-deserved reward to the thirsty father-daughter hiking crew. Back at the farm, we were told stories of the farm’s rich history – from being an old trading post for the Dutch East India Company (1699) to old church bell towers and windows that now form a part of the cellar. The farm’s name, Oude Compagnies Post, got its name through its historical background, and although it is not the easiest name to pronounce for us English-speaking tourists, with a history like that it’s well worth the struggle to pronounce!

It was incredibly refreshing and somewhat inspiring to make the acquaintance of another young winemaker in the industry. Being a final year winemaking student myself, it gives me hope and excites me to see the younger generation take the industry head on, while still staying true to the art of winemaking. This experience highlighted something incredibly important to me, without passion and drive, your dreams won’t materialize. To see someone only a few years older than me start up their own wine label, with the help of his dad who he shares vineyard duties with, and achieve such a great feat while remaining so humble was also very enlightening. It was necessary for me to realise that no matter what your dreams are or how fast you achieve them, it’s important to stay humble. Each day is a new learning experience, especially in the wine industry, you can never know too much about wine!

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A day in the life of a ‘pre-exam’ new world winemaking student

By Geena Whiting.

Going through university we come across many different study techniques, and one of the most recommended ways of indicating your true knowledge of a subject is to try and explain it to someone. I have a massive test coming up and between you and me I am very nervous about writing it, it is on Malolactic fermentation and it is not my strong suit, so please allow me to try and explain it to you so that I can pass my test.

Malolactic fermentation is the breakdown of malic acid to lactic acid by bacteria. There are three metabolic groups that the bacteria fall under: Obligate homofermentitive, Obligate hetereofermentative and Facultatively heterofermentitive. The major bacteria O.oeni we use belongs to the obligate heterofermentative group, they posse the phosphoketlase enzyme and ferment glucose/fructose to lactate, ethanol, acetic acid and CO2.

The other common bacteria is L.plantarum species, these belong to the facultatively heterofermentative groups. It ferments glucose/fructose via the EMP pathway; however glucose represses the enzyme of the phosphoglyconate pathway and therefore doesn’t increase the volatile acidity of the wine.

Enough about the tiny details (That’s a microbiology joke because bacteria are small)

How does malic acid fermentation impact wine sensory attributes?

Aroma: there is an improved fruitiness, butteriness and a reduced vegetative character.

Taste: it’s less acidic than the original, a creamier and fuller palate and more complex flavours are produced.

Mouthfeel: there is better structure and a more balanced wine.

Colour: The impact on a heavy wine is limited but malic acid on cool climate wines or thin skinned grapes will cause a slight colour loss.

The aromas that the MLF produced can be described as buttery, lactic/yoghurt, nutty, yeasty, oaky, vanilla, fruity, caramel and toffee.

Where do the wine aromas come from?

Mainly the degradation of citric acid, citric acid exists in lower concentrations in wine (0.2-0.6g/l), the degradation begins when 2/3 of the malic acid degradation is complete.  Citrate is broken down by citrate lyase to oxaloacetate – this reaction also produced acetate which results in the increase of volatile acidity. Oxaloacetate is degraded to pyruvate and this gives rise to acetate, D-lactate, Diacetyl and 2,3-butandiol.

Diacetyl in low levels gives rise to toasty, nutty and yeasty characteristics, at medium levels you will smell buttery or butterscotch and adds complexity, high levels give you rancid butter and masks the fruity and vegetative aromas. This is what we want to see in a tasty Chardonnay.

2,3 – Butandiol at threshold levels of 600mg/l will give you fruity , buttery and creamy aromas.

Esters something that I don’t really think about in red wine, however MLF is a major process in making red wine… well, drinkable. Ethyl lactate is the most important ester; it provides the fruity, buttery and creamy mouthfeel. Ethyl hexonate gives off the brandy cherry flavour. Those beautiful floral aromas of some white wines are caused by ethyl octanoate. We all know that banana flavour in some pinotages, well that is caused by isoamyl acetate.

There are some downsides to MLF – this is the higher alcohol this can give rise to Isobutanol which gives off solvent and bitterness. Isoamyl alcohol which will give off that malty burnt flavour.
2- phenyl ethanol will bring those beautiful honey, spice, rose and lilac flavours.

The Strains also differ. O.oeni will increase the buttery aroma and will produce some VA. L.plantarum increases the fruitiness.

You also have to take into account when you inoculate: co-inoculation is when you inoculate during fermentation, this is great because the free sulphur and ethanol is low. You can use the temperature from fermentation. It will increase the fruitiness, less diacetyl is produced, the wine is less acidic. Sequential inoculation is when you inoculate after fermentation, this can be a problem with stuck fermentation because of alcohol, N sources are depleted and lysozyme are produced which kill the bacteria. There is no increase in Volatile acidity. It produces more buttery notes and the fermentation is easier to control.

Well thanks for your help, I feel much more confident about my test and I hope you have learnt something too!

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Back to the future – exciting and scary innovations in the wine industry

Written by Geena Whiting.

The industry we have committed ourselves to is forever expanding and growing. New ideas and innovations are on every horizon and the horizon is broad. Climb aboard the DeLorean with me and let’s see what the future holds.

Green Wine:

When talking about green wine, the slogan “going green” may cross your mind. While we encourage all sectors of agriculture to move to more sustainable and organic means, I am actually talking about wine that has a green colour.

There are many things associated with the colour green – nature, jealousy, the Grinch who stole Christmas and little green alien guys but wine? Surely that’s where we draw the line – its red, white or rose, the end of the story right? Wrong.  Vinho Verde the famous Portuguese wine, although the name literally means green wine the colour of the wine is actually white. What I am actually referring to is the Cannabis wine, much like the patented rooibos wine we have here in South Africa, the cannabis stalks are cold extracted and used as staves in place of oak during the wine making process. This leaves the wine with a green colour and a slight percentage of THC. Whether you want to legalize it man! Or not, you should defiantly give this wine tincture a try.

Blue Wine:

Everyone remembers those elegant blue creatures who took the world by storm, connected with nature and having a strong familial bond, naturally I’m talking about the Smurfs. Would you drink wine that is the colour of a smurf? Well there are a lot of people who do and this is how it’s made.

A blend of red and white wine is created and a rose colour is formed. Anthocyanin (The red colour pigment in red grape skins) is then added to the blend followed by the addition of indigotine plant dye. Which transforms the colour of the wine to neon blue, non-nutritive sweeteners are added and the wine is best served chilled.

So now when you are feeling sassy or sad there’s a wine to go with your mood!

Kosher wine:

Wine has been part of religious practices since the dawn of time, now there are ranges of wine that is prepared according to the requirements of Jewish Law. Zandwijk in Paarl, has gone above and beyond and become certified by the Cape Beth Din. All of the wines and juices are Kosher and Kosher for Passover. Whilst religiously adhering to the parameters of the Cape Beth Din, the modern and technologically advanced wine cellar allow for the wines to exhibit the terroir of South Africa.

This is untapped territory, will other farms take up the mantle and will we see more religious representation in the wine industry? Only time will tell.

Synthetic wine:

Also known as wine that’s not made from grapes.  A chemical product made in a lab consisting of all the  chemical compounds that make up wine – water, anthocyanins, flavonoids, tannins, fatty acids etc. It’s supposed to mimic expensive wines at a fraction of the cost so that the everyman will get to taste some of the most expensive wines without breaking the bank.

Do you think that this will catch on? Will there be space for both farms and labs on the shelves?

Vegan wine:

The push to become environmentally friendly is a growing trend that we should all get on board for. Vegan wine is becoming bragging rights for some farms and rightfully so. Wine can be made without the use of animal based fining products and still be as delicious and complex as it has ever been.  Basically it will taste the same and last just as long so why not be environmentally friendly too?

Wine in a can:

A recent article I read posed that while the more traditional wine drinkers opposed this idea, millennials love it. Speaking as a millennial, yes, yes we do.  Why shouldn’t wine come in a can, it’s much easier to recycle than these new plastic bottles and is more easy to transport than a big glass bottle. Sometimes we don’t want to have to finish the whole bottle and just sit back with a glass (a can) and drink our favourite drink. Whether this will catch on and become common place for every brand is doubtful, but it definitely has its place in the market and is better than plastic alternatives.

When your great, great, great grandchild has their first sip of wine what do you think the wine will look like?

For me, I hope that our traditional wines stick around like they have since the beginning but that does not mean there isn’t space for new ideas on the wine rack.

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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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