As SA wine becomes increasingly and perhaps unavoidably politicized, its worth considering pressures on that silent constituency: the winemakers. At a splendid lunch at Societi Bistro yesterday of pork neck and brocolli soup with final year Elsenburg student Adriaan van Ellewee (below) to discuss August’s Wagu & Wine fundraising lunch and auction at Alan Pick’s The Butcher’s Shop & Grill, the state of the national cellar came up for discussion. Adriaan and his colleagues are resucitating the annual Elsenburg Auction, last held in 2005, to raise funds to send 22 students to France for an end-of-year study tour. A worthy cause, if ever there was one, if SA wine is serious about breaking out of the “cellar palate” death spiral to start focusing on wine styles the rest of the world is buying.
Adriaan paints a gloomy picture: of the dozen Elsenburg graduates last year, not a single one landed a full-time job. Some have short-term contracts at R5000 per month and most are unemployed. Which does not bode well for this year’s harvest of 20 winemakers although the six ladies, two Indians and a “coloured” winemaker from Houghton are perhaps better placed than the young, white males, traditional stalwarts of the industry. With Stellenbosch University flooding the market with up to 70 winemaking graduates this year, the depth of the problem is evident. ”We need a union for winemakers” laughs Adriaan. Not a bad idea as the industry gets hijacked by cynical opportunists, like some of the shadowy figures behind the ridiculously expensive WIETA initiative.
But thanks to the generosity of Elsenburg old boys, like Marc Kent who has donated over R30,000 worth of wine to the auction, its not all doom and gloom. A trip to the Old World of wine may be just what is needed for an entrepreneurial-minded winemaker to follow the example of Marc and his classmate, Eben Sadie, to recreate the industry.
Wagu & Wine takes places on 17 August at the Butcher’s Shop and Grill. R1000 buys you the best steak in town washed down with CWG icons galore. I’ll be reprising the role of Rael Levitt and knocking down two dozen lots of top drawer SA wines, with none of that funny business you get in the Cape.
Neil, you may want to retract this post quickly before you give the unions any ideas – especially given the recent Marikana tragedy. The last thing we need in SA now is SAPS attacking our vineyards!