The post-harvest blues have slowly started to sink in as the familiar snip-snip-snip of pruning shears drifts through the vineyard. While the viticulturists are hard at work, the fourth year cellar interns have returned to the comforts of campus life, or so we thought.

Back at our old stomping ground, the university, we have been hard at work doing a winterschool programme, designed to get us industry ready. In six months time, we are going to be released into this close-knit industry, but there aren’t enough positions available for all of us. Many students will opt to go into marketing, to study further, to become sommeliers, wine buyers and some of us will go on to become winemakers and viticulturalists.

The winter school programme has remodelled the way that we think and approach situations, through a course called the “six thinking hats”. One of the questions we focused in in a session was, “how can we ensure that wine competes with beer”. This was an incredibly difficult topic to tackle, given that beer is unfortunately still the beverage of choice amongst the general public. A few interesting ideas emerged, like wine on tap, wine in a can, wine coolers, wine marketing during rugby games…unfortunately most of our ideas weren’t the most viable, however the exercise did teach us how important it is to alter our way of thinking.

After the six thinking hats, we moved on to wine marketing. In this short course we learned the importance of being able to design and sell your brand, as well as learning how to understand the different markets we would be selling our wines to in the future. With regards to the local market, students were taught how to identify the various target markets we would be selling our wines too, and the importance of having a story that makes your target market want to try your product.

IPW and SAWIS courses were also offered to us, the whole final year class underwent training at Elsenburg for the IPW guidelines. I personally enjoyed this the most because after the IPW training, we were invited too braai with the Elsenburg students. Here we were allowed to catch a glimpse of their world. From cinsault barrel tastings, to drinking gin and wine on the stoep, we somehow managed to strip away any preconceived stigmas we had about each other and just enjoy the company. A few bottles of wine made the rounds between us, and after three boerewors rolls and great company, we headed back to the university (with heavy hearts might I add, the afternoon really was lovely!).

SAWIS came at us like a ton of bricks on the first day of training, it was a lot of information that we suddenly had to take in. The second day was spent teaching students how to fill in the green and pink cards, as well as various other SAWIS forms, during the winemaking process. We were surprised with a quick SAWIS exam, that didn’t turn out quite as badly as we had all expected it to. I definitely feel more appreciative of all of the hard work winemakers have to do behind the scenes, admin is tough!

From SAWIS, we moved on to Toastmasters; a course designed to teach us how to prepare speeches and face the terrors surrounding public speaking. We learned a lot about each other during this course, one of my classmates revealed that she had a blackbelt in karate by the age of 12, another had dressed up as a Zulu impi at the world cup a few years ago, one has a shoulder that randomly pops out of joint and another rode his uppity horse through the Durbanville McDonald’s Drive through to pick up a lunch order! Impromptu speaking presented a little more of a challenge, however by the end of the week I can wholeheartedly say that I am a part of a class of word-wizards!

Toastmasters was aimed to help us combine our knowledge on the wine industry as well as our new-found wine marketing knowledge, enabling us to feel comfortable in front of an audience while talking about wine, essentially equipping us with the ability to market and present our wines in the future.

A few students were offered the opportunity to take part in a wine evaluation course, wherein they learned how to identify wine faults and how to judge wine accurately. The three day course enables students to participate as a student judge or an “extra judge” in various wine competitions, such as the ABSA Pinotage Top 10. This was a fantastic opportunity awarded to students who passed the initial wine faults test, I unfortunately have always known that my wine drinking skills far outweigh my wine tasting skills, and failed dismally.

To end off the winterschool period, the class was invited to attend a pruning workshop with Livio (the Italian vineyard man), who showed us how to master a new and very interesting pruning technique that involves minimalizing pruning wounds, while building the bearing positions up to create stronger sap flow to next season’s shoots. The method took some getting used to, however it made a lot of sense. I for one feel incredibly enlightened after the past month of training. These sessions have taught us valuable skills that we can take with us into the industry next year, hopefully allowing us to produce and sell top tier wines!