Wine opens doors for students

© Cape Times Friday 17th June 2016

For many of us parents, the last few weeks have been particularly wine-filled as we cajole, encourage, berate and coerce our children to revise for exams. It’s been a first time for us and I have to say, we’ve felt the strain, somewhat eased by a good few swear words and a nice glass of wine at the end of the day. How much more fun it is to teach and learn about wine, when drinking a glass is counted as revision itself!

Which leads me nicely to some students who want to do just that and who are trying to raise money to allow them to do so. Elsenburg Agricultural College, along with great rivals Stellenbosch University, is the training ground for almost all winemakers working in the South African wine industry today. Chief winemaker and head lecturer, Lorraine Geldenhuys and I have worked together over the last couple of years and I know her to be a passionate and inspiring lecturer. Her biggest aim for her students is that they are work-ready when they leave the college. This means lots of practical experience and Elsenburg has made wine and brandy for the past few years under Lorraine’s guidance, with plans afoot for gin to be added to the repertoire as well.

The biggest problem the Elsenburg students have – in fact, the biggest problem most students of wine have in South Africa – is learning how wine is made in other countries, particularly in Europe which has a tradition of winemaking stretching back thousands of years as opposed to our measly 350. European wine laws are generally much stricter than South African, with regulations surrounding grape variety, planting density, pruning, yields, winemaking practices, minimum alcohol and a whole host of other rules all designed to improve quality. The challenge for South African winemakers is to understand the thinking behind these rules and to learn which ones could be usefully applied to South Africa and which are best ignored. And in order to do that best, first-hand knowledge is required.

Lorraine and her nine final year students have planned a trip in November which will take them, and her assistant winemaker Solomon Monyamane, on a technical tour of some of the major winemaking regions of Portugal and France. They are being supported on this trip by various means, including a donation from the Cape Winemakers Guild, but the majority of money should come from two charity auctions, one to be held at Beyerskloof wine farm on July 26 and the other in Johannesburg at a later date. The UK-based International Wine Challenge has donated lots of exciting international wines which have been carefully matched to equivalent, leading South African examples to create really interesting lots. In addition, there will be a series of once-in-a-lifetime lots such as skydiving, wine farm stayovers and other winery insider experiences. The auction is open to all and for more information, contact Lorraine on

And on the subject of students learning about wine, congratulations to the 2016 class of the Pinotage Youth Development Academy who graduated a couple of weeks ago. This is an amazing programme taking young people though an eye-opening practical journey into the wine industry aimed at giving them skills and confidence and ultimately, jobs. On top of their industry-endorsed qualification, two-thirds of the group now also possess an internationally-recognised wine qualification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, funded by the Cape Wine Auction. Let’s hope the Elsenburg auction achieves equally successful results for their students as well.