Superior Stellenbosch Palates See UCT Bite the Dust in Backsberg Vino Varsity


Top image caption: The winning Stellenbosch team! Back from left: Janco de Kock, Sam Lambson, John Nutt, Darren Maree, Jacques Janse van Rensburg, Karin van der Westhuizen. Kneeling: Dené van Wyk, Christopher De Sousa Coutinho, Elsje Dippenaar and Simon Back.

The ninth Backsberg Vino Varsity inter-university wine challenge saw Stellenbosch take the laurels due to their near-perfect execution of the basics. Superior wine knowledge and breath-taking tasting skills had the Stellenbosch Wine Culture Society beat the UCT Wine Society into second place, while University of Pretoria struggled to keep up with the pace, ending third.

“It was a great win,” said Stellenbosch team captain Darren Maree after the thrilling contest, which was held in the packed Backsberg function venue. “With wine being part of most Stellenbosch students’ DNA, we expected to do well in the general knowledge and tasting sections. But we really would have liked to have made it a clean sweep by winning the debate section too, where we believe we came close to a very slick UCT outfit.”

The general knowledge section saw the teams having to answer a diverse volley of wine-related questions including historical facts, wine varieties and production regions. And the tasting competition truly taxed the three teams, the organisers having gone to great lengths to sneak in tricky wine style, varieties and blends.

“Today we showed we had brains and tasting brawn,” said Maree. “But it is more about talent. Since June the team has been put through a punishing training regimen to ensure mental fitness and physical stamina. It all came through in the general knowledge and tasting. UCT were good, and Pretoria obviously struggled with the low-altitude coastal conditions. Both teams were truly great competitors.”

The Vino Varsity’s Grand Finale was the debate where all three teams had to spell out their take on the pros and cons for the Wine of Origin Cape Town district that was recently introduced to the South African wine industry. The only contenders were UCT and Stellenbosch as Pretoria had their training schedule interrupted due to the anguish caused by the shocking performance by the Blue Bulls rugby team this year. With both UCT and Stellenbosch showing thorough research, a grasp of the topic and slick execution, it was a close call, one which went UCT’s way.

Bevan Willoughby, captain of the UCT Wine Society, said it was harder than they had expected. “We were still rattled by the Stellenbosch dominance in the first two sections of the contest,” he said. “And despite Cape Town being our home ground and having immersed ourselves into the topic, we expected to do well, which I think we did. But Stellenbosch showed a great understanding of the marketing and job creation benefits of Wine of Origin Cape Town and really ran us close. We were elated to win this part of the event, but will train harder in the other sections to bounce back next year.”

Backsberg CEO and Vino Varsity founder Simon Back says the event is growing from strength-to-strength with the standards rising each year. “This is the ninth running of the competition, and the standards just keep improving,” says Back. “The contestants are becoming better prepared, have sharper palates and show a real grasp of issues pertaining to the South African wine industry. Hopefully some of the contestants will be taking up a career in wine, as they have a lot to offer. Add youthful energy and a willingness to learn, they can help solve many of the challenges and help grab the opportunities faced by brand South Africa.”