Choosing winemaking as a career is about more than the theory and requires a holistic approach to learning. This is one of the lessons young protégés shared during a Cape Winemakers Guild discussion.
There seems to be a misconception that winemaking is a glamorous career, but you have to get down and dirty, work hard, and be educated in your craft. The Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) has become a distinctive institution involved in providing mentorships and real-world experience to students. Since the establishment of its Protégé Programme in 2006, 24 protégés have completed the three-year internship while 10 are enrolled in the programme.
The CWG recently discussed choosing winemaking as a career and panellists included protégés Kelsey Shunking and Kiara Scott, winemaker and guild member Duncan Savage, as well as winemaker and Elsenburg College lecturer Lorraine Geldenhuys.
“The protégé programme creates a platform to learn, and spreads knowledge to young aspiring winemakers with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for the industry,” says Duncan, who fell in love with wine started his journey at Elsenburg and became a CWG member in 2007. He adds that it’s not always fun and games because you need to work hard and be prepared to go the extra mile. “Knowledge is power and there should be a willingness to apply that knowledge.”
When a student enrols for the programme they expect what’s listed in the prospectus, but having only this will leave you bored and disconnected from an industry with a real heartbeat, says Lorraine.
Lorraine expects her students to tap into the rhythm of winemaking specific to each vintage because each team has a specific rhythm. “I expect them to be on time, take responsibility for the wines they produce, and I expect students to understand that time during the harvest is an irrelevant concept.”
She believes wine is about involvement and having conversations about wine. “I expect students to respect the industry, themselves, and alcohol. But most importantly, I expect them to pay it forward. “
Graduated protégé Kiara Scott does not come from a wine background and says in her community wine isn’t necessarily the first choice. Kiara became curious about winemaking and opted to study winemaking at Elsenburg and was approached to apply for the programme and bursary.
During the programme she worked for David Niewoudt, Charles Hopkins, and Carl van der Merwe. She has also worked with Duncan where she learned about precision, winemaking, soils, and vineyards.
As an assistant winemaker at Brookdale Estate, Kiara recently released her 2019 Chenin vintage. Although she found it daunting, she appreciated having a network of experienced people to assist her. “Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, listen and learn get involved in everything and be the best at whatever you are doing,” she says.
Similar to Kiara, current protégé Kelsey has had wonderful learning experiences and currently works with Charles Hopkins at De Grendel Wine Estate. “There have been so many opportunities. The more you show your passion and enthusiasm, the more you will get out of it.”
She says her class had a variety of interests in the wine industry – from winemaking to viticulturists to sommeliers and even students interested in making cooling systems for tanks. “Not everyone came out of the programme wanting to be winemakers but they still found a career to pursue through studying winemaking.”
Lorraine says students need to get out of the classroom to learn more about soil and cultivate a more holistic approach. “We just got back with our team from a remote part of the Karoo where we planted Grenache in the driest conditions of South Africa with 20 mm of rainfall.”
She says her job is to tap into the rhythms of those annual cycles to show students what spring, winter, and summer is like and to be willing to do the backbreaking work expected in the vineyard.
The Guild’s protégé programme provides opportunities to develop your personal life and to gain an understanding of your wine knowledge. “Not only do you learn about wine but you learn about life. At Elsenburg we’re driving different sections of the wine industry and moving it forward, which is exciting.”
As the protégé programme has shown, following a holistic approach from the classroom to the cellar benefits winemakers and generates longevity in the wine industry.