From Winetech study groups to the ‘Circle of Excellence’

by | Feb 1, 2017 | Winetech Technical, Practical in the cellar

Winetech-logoDiscussions were recently held with three winemakers and four cellar workers to determine the value of the Winetech study groups and whether they make a difference.

Winetech study groups are a valuable resource for technology transfer, according to the organisation’s information documents. They encourage cellar workers to show greater interest in their work while simultaneously improving their productivity. It is also claimed that cellar workers’ participation in the study groups improves their work relationships.

In view of such statements one can rightly question the extent to which such goals were achieved thanks to the study groups.

Three of the cellar workers interviewed are former finalists in the SA Cellar Worker programme and members of the Circle of Excellence. The Winetech study groups and SA Cellar Worker programme are two independent programmes with integrated management. The study groups do the sifting to determine the finalists and winner of the SA Cellar Worker programme.

Interviews were conducted with winemaker Marlize Jacobs and cellar worker Regan Theodore of Vergenoegd, winemaker Hannes Nel and cellar workers Ivan Xelelo and Joel Chakana of Lourensford, and winemaker Mario Damon and cellar worker Heinrich la Fleur of DGB.

In the course of discussions the winemakers and cellar workers were asked what the Winetech study groups meant for cellar workers and whether they made a significant difference in the work place.

All three winemakers were of the opinion that the study groups made a significant contribution to the development of their cellar workers. Marlize said cellar workers received training and acquired knowledge in the study groups. She was furthermore of the opinion that a network was formed with other cellar workers thus eliminating the isolation in which cellar workers often operate. The interaction with other cellar workers has enormous benefits.

Winetech-studiegroepe (Foto 1 - Regan Theodore)

Regan Theodore of Vergenoegd.

The Winetech study groups give cellar workers the opportunity to see and learn more about the wine industry. Marlize said Regan was definitely able to grow by attending the study groups. He has more self-confidence, is more focussed and takes more responsibility in the cellar. He thinks out of the box and makes clever suggestions. Initially he only attended the study groups to get out of the cellar, but this is definitely no longer the case.

Hannes said the Winetech study groups were a way of measuring cellar workers. It is also currently the only training available for cellar workers who have already completed SKOP training. The study groups create the opportunity for cellars to focus on personnel development and create an awareness among cellar workers of the product with which they work. Mario agreed that the Winetech study groups made a big difference. His cellar workers ask questions and show interest in the product with which they work.

The four cellar workers who participated in the discussion were asked what the study groups meant to them. Regan said it helped him to know where he fit in and forced him to focus and absorb and remember information. He also retained his knowledge.

Winetech-studiegroepe (Foto 3 - Ivan Xelelo)

Ivan Xelelo of Lourensford.

Ivan and Joel are passionate about their work and consider the study groups a means of promoting their career.

Heinrich said the study groups helped him acquire in depth knowledge about cultivars, something which is not always possible during work hours. Thanks to the study groups he gets the full picture and since 2015, when he first started participating, he has been given more senior tasks in the cellar.

All four cellar workers confirmed that they were more focussed in their work and had more self-confidence.

The winemakers were asked whether the fact that their cellar workers were finalists in the SA Cellar Worker programme impacted on their cellars. Both Regan and Heinrich have twice been finalists. Ivan was a finalist for the first time last year and the SA Cellar Worker for 2016.

All three winemakers confirmed that it meant much to their cellars that their cellar workers were finalists in the 2016 SA Cellar Worker programme. Wines can be entered and awards won, but thanks to the study groups cellars and cellar workers are able to measure themselves too.

Winetech-studiegroepe (Foto 2 - Heinrich la Fleur)

Heinrich la Fleur of DGB.

All three winemakers also said that the cellar workers were able to grow and acquire more self-confidence. Mario felt that something inherently good happened in the Winetech study groups, with Heinrich bringing the knowledge which he acquired back to the cellar by communicating with other cellar workers. The interaction between him and Heinrich keeps him abreast of new developments in the wine industry.

The cellar workers were asked what it meant to them to be a finalist and part of the Circle of Excellence. It is interesting that they are aware of the fact that other cellar workers look up to them and consider them role models. The common feeling was that the Circle of Excellence contributed to their knowledge and they considered themselves part of a network of cellar workers who enjoyed recognition. For them it is an extremely positive experience to be part of this group and to expand their knowledge in this way.

All four cellar workers said that they would enjoy more exposure to wine tastings to improve their tasting knowledge – something which is lacking in many cellars.

Thanks to members of the Circle of Excellence participated in the South African Wine Tasting Championship last year. This obliged them to face their fears and Regan is convinced that his tasting abilities improved. Participation in the championship was also seen as an opportunity to ensure the further transfer of knowledge and technology to this group of cellar workers.


– For more information, contact Santi Basson at


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