Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch is the only school in the country, and possibly the world, whose curriculum includes a winemaking module. On the basis of an interest in winemaking, twelve pupils from grade six to eleven* were selected for the course which lasts a year. The first Paul Roos wine, a 2000 vintage, is now being matured in four small oak barrels on Middelvlei Estate.
“Stellenbosch is a wine region, but the learners themselves never got very much exposure to winemaking. We believe that those who acquire a solid understanding of this agricultural product, will treat and use it respectfully and distinguish between a lesser and a good wine,” says Frans van Niekerk, vice-rector of Paul Roos. “Learners now have the opportunity to become better acquainted with the more sophisticated part of this wine culture, thereby improving their social skills,” he says.
Many of the school’s alumni are winemakers and the notion to develop a winemaking module originated with three of them: Jan du Preez of Du Preez Wines in Stellenbosch; Wouter Pienaar of SFW and Ben Momberg, viticulturist of Middelvlei, where the wine is being made.
The other motivation for the module is to introduce potential winemakers to a career. The pupils are involved in the whole vinification process; this includes picking the grapes and even bottling, which will be done by hand.
“As the quality of our wine has to be exceptionally good, we waited for the ideal ripening conditions. When the moment arrived one morning at nine o’clock, the boys were sent into the vineyards at Leidersburg (Du Preez Wines),” Frans says. From nine to two in the afternoon, they harvested one ton. Another ton from the Middelvlei vineyards was added.
However, it was not plain sailing all the way. Armed with shears, three of the “pickers” had to bandage wounds with school socks, because it did not take long for blood to be drawn!
Tinnie Momberg, Middelvlei’s winemaker, is keeping a watchful eye on the winemaking process. He also holds technical winetastings for the learners. However, it is not simply a matter of swallowing. The boys have to learn about pH, acids, tannins and how the maturation progresses. Tinnie jokes: “I’m half worried. So far their wine is looking better than mine!”
Approximately 1 500 bottles of the Cabernet Sauvignon will be released. The first attempt will be lying in the barrels until the end of next year, Tinnie says. The wine will be tasted regularly in the boys’ presence and the barrels topped up every two to three months. They will design the label themselves and be responsible for bottling. Nic de Jager, well-known radio and TV personality, will teach the boys about design and printing aspects. They will also choose the name of the wine.
While the learners/winemakers’ maiden wine is resting, they are being schooled in viticulture. They are learning more about soil types and the differences between cultivars.
The Paul Roos wine will be properly launched. The quality will be outstanding and there will be no shortage of buyers, predicts Frans. For general distribution, however, the quantity is insufficient. In future the income thus generated will be used to buy in grapes, rather than relying on grape donations, as the school had to do this year. The balance will be used to establish a bursary fund for prospective viticulture and oenology students.
Paul Roos Gymnasium also offers a module that covers wine appreciation. The learners study different wine styles, the correct usage of wine and how to taste correctly.
The parents of the learners support the project. Although they also realise that it is illegal to sell wine to anybody under the age of 18, they appreciate the value of the education process. The learners now realize that winemaking involves a lot of work. “There’s a lot more to it than just taking a bottle of Tas from the shelf,” one said.
Emile Rossouw puts it thus: “So far I enjoy the module and discovering how much effort goes into a bottle of wine before it ends up on our tables. It has been extremely worthwhile.” The vice-rector agrees. “Love of the grape is what it is all about. Wine is not evil, but those who abuse it, give this agricultural product a bad reputation.”
The Paul Roos boys are thinking big. “It is not impossible for us to put this wine on the Nederburg Auction in future.” The school intends to release a vintage wine annually. “Perhaps we can eventually establish a complete wine academy. Then we can give those learners who consider a career in winemaking a broader theoretical background,” says Frans. His vision for the future is that the winemaking module will put Paul Roos on the map one day, “as part of the Stellenbosch Wine Route.”
And one would be inclined to agree that these dreams might come true, for already the school offers just about everything. Other modules include parachuting, scuba diving, street law, a braai module (which includes, inter alia, the various cuts of meat), ballroom dancing and fly fishing. Learners can even complete the preliminary studies for eventually obtaining a flying licence!
* Grade 12 learners were not eligible, since this first winemaking module extends to next year, when the wine will be marketed.