Transforming the wine industry.

© Cape Times Friday 19th August 2016

I can’t think of a more irritating phrase than “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s complacent, it’s lazy and it and its partner phrase “but we’ve always done it like this” are words which have no place in today’s rapidly-changing society. I was thinking about this when I attended a presentation of a decade of Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé programme a week or so ago. When I first came across the CWG, it was a bit of an Old Boys Club with no female members at all – something guaranteed to raise anyone’s hackles this Women’s Month – but over the years, things have changed, the focus of the Guild has sharpened and it and its members have raised its game. Instead of being a monthly excuse to drink and chat, the Guild is a modern group of most of the best winemakers in SA, leading the wine industry to ever greater heights.

One of the newer – and better – initiatives in the CWG has been the development of the CWG Protégé programme in connection with Nedbank. In 2006 it was decided to form a mentorship programme with the aim of assisting with transformation within the wine industry. Winemaking students are selected post-graduation to complete a 3 year mentorship programme which sees them spending each year working alongside one of the Guild members. During this time, they also get the chance to make their own wine, participate in the monthly Guild tastings which exposes them to wines from around the world, judge at competitions and often travel to far-flung vinous destinations to further their studies and experience.

But it’s working alongside the SA winemaking legends which is the greatest opportunity all the protégés cited at the event last week. Louis Strydom, CWG member and chairman of the Nedbank CWG Development Trust explains it this way “We have over 940 years’ experience amongst the 47 winemakers in the Guild! It’s our responsibility to share that knowledge with the next generation.” For the protégés to be able to access this knowledge at such an early stage of their careers really gives them an edge. Considering that many of them come from backgrounds outside the wine industry and they can’t call on any connections or old boys’ network, it is this internship which sets them apart and makes them eminently employable.

And employable is what they are proving to be. Already the programme has produced 12 graduates now working in the wine industry and there are more coming through all the time. The programme has expanded to include a new viticulture protégé – we couldn’t meet him as he was on a visit to Australia at the time – and in addition a skills development programme for cellar workers is educating 1,500 workers every single year. If you want to taste how the protégés are faring, you can’t do better than try some of the wines made by the current second and third year students which will be sold at a silent auction during the main CWG Auction on 1st October. We tasted a delicately-fruity Pinot Noir made by Chandré Petersen, a savoury and complex Chenin from Heinrich Kulsen, a spicy and aromatic Shiraz from Rose Kruger and a beautifully-balanced Muscat from Thornton Pillay. All proceeds will go back into the Development Trust pot to continue funding even more protégés in the future. And hopefully, before too long, one of these protégés will eventually become a Guild member in their own right, giving back to generations of students to come.