Driven and committed to succeed, Ivan Xelelo had one goal this year – to be South Africa’s top cellar worker.
Xelelo, who is a senior cellar assistant at Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West, was announced as the SA Cellar Worker of the Year 2016 during an information day at Goudini Spa, Rawsonville this afternoon. The day has been sponsored by Nedbank since 2014.
“I am really excited about winning this year – a big gift today on my thirtieth birthday! After ending fourth in 2015, I was determined to win this year,” said Ivan.
The runners up were Regan Theodore from Vergenoegd, Stellenbosch, and Heinrich la Fleur from DGB, Wellington.
They competed with 369 cellar workers who attended a series of four study groups presented by the wine industry unit Winetech. Those with the highest average marks in terms of theory and practical tasting were identified and invited to take part in the SA Cellar Worker Programme – sponsored by the VinPro Foundation – and underwent a final evaluation based on all learning material.
“The standard was very high this year. We usually select a top 10 for further evaluation, but had to choose 14 as the marks were so close,” says Santi Basson, project leader of the SA Cellar Worker Programme. “It is especially noteworthy that Ivan is our first Xhosa speaking winner, and that we have seen a great expansion of the Xhosa study groups since introducing it last year.”
Ivan’s next big dream is becoming assistant winemaker and eventually winemaker. “And he will achieve it, because he definitely has the perseverance!” says Hannes Nel, winemaker at Lourensford. “We’ve seen him grow since participating in the study groups and programme. He has acquired knowledge beyond the spectrum of the usual cellar environment, but also gained confidence and a real love for wine. We are very proud of what Ivan has achieved.”
Ivan’s message for other cellar workers: “Keep on dreaming, don’t give up, work hard and you will reap the rewards.” He thanked the cellar, and Hannes specifically, for their ongoing support and interest in developing their people.
The SA Cellar Worker Programme and Winetech Study Groups have been making a significant contribution to the innovative transfer of technology since 2009, and gives recognition to cellar workers for their valuable contribution to the industry. The top three winners each year form part of the Circle of Excellence, a programme for further knowledge sharing, mentoring and support.
All about cultivars, climate and business
Apart from being an annual highlight on cellar workers’ calendar, during which the winner is announced, the Cellar Worker Information Day acts as a further platform for valuable information transfer to cellar workers.
Presentations this year at Goudini Spa in Rawsonville included an overview of interesting new wine grape cultivars, the effect of climate on the vineyard, as well as the influence of smoke on wine quality. Dr Ernest Messina, chair of the Groot Constantia Trust, inspired the audience. “Only you van determine your life journey going forward. Tell yourself you’re worthy and show it through your attitude, commitment, respect for yourself and others, as well as loyalty towards your employer,” he says.
The day was attended by close to 200 cellar workers, winemakers and other wine industry roleplayers.
“The wine industry is an important contributor to the Western Cape economy, and its cellar workers are an integral part of this. Nedbank is a proud sponsor of the Cellar Worker Information Day, during which recognition is given to this outstanding group of people,” says Helmien Havenga, area manager sales at Nedbank in Worcester.
From recognition to excellence
The study groups and programme go beyond information transfer and recognition. “Over the years we’ve seen an increase in productivity, improved relationships and the establishment of role models at the participating cellars,” says Santi.
The Circle of Excellence provides further support the group of previous top performers, ensuring sustainable growth.
Here’s what some of the previous winners had to say:
“I went from being a cellar worker to assistant winemaker, and had the opportunity to visit, study and work overseas. Don’t keep knowledge to yourself; empower others by sharing,” says 2009 winner Jonas Cupido of Van Loveren Family Vineyards in Robertson.
“Winning added a lot of value to my work and personal life; I now have the confidence to motivate, support and give direction to my co-workers,” says 2010 winner, Adam Alexander, who is now the barrel cellar manager at Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons in Franschhoek.
“The programme has definitely opened doors for me. I now enjoy working in the lab, doing analyses and compiling work instructions for my colleagues,” says 2014 winner, Gerrie Grootboom of Roodezandt Winery, Robertson.
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