From Elsenburg to the future (via Burgundy)

Many times I’ve driven past Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute just outside Stellenbosch town, but never visited the place – though it’s where a good chunk of South African winemakers are trained, so maybe I should have. Then I got an invitation from Lorraine Geldenhuys, winemaker and lecturer there – a rather vague one about “media magic … an introduction to a fascinating project” Sounded a rather dubious affair (I hate invitations to unspecified events), and given that time and opportunity pressures mean that I turn down 90% of the invitations I get….


The view from the Elsenburg wine-cellar door. Pity about the cars.

But I’d heard Eben Sadie speaking of Lorraine and the fine job she’s doing at Elsenburg (he says “she’s a force of nature and one of the most positive realities currently in the SA wine industry – she has vision and is willing to bleed for it!”). So, I had to go, of course, and I’m pleased I did: how often do you get the chance to meet a force of nature in human form? Quite apart from it being a spectacularly beautiful sunny winter’s day in a freshly rain-washed Stellenbosch landscape.


Lorraine Geldenhuys (with the scarf) and her students at Elsenburg

I’ll come back to the “fascinating project”, but let me first mention that I left the event impressed by everything there – including a bunch of final-year students who were friendly, hospitable, enthusiastic and clearly committed, and a tasting of the 2015 wines that the previous year’s students had made off the quite extensive and varied Elsenburg vineyards: they were good (rather better than the wines of one or two more senior winemakers I could mention!).

The presentation was about – well, a lot of it somehow managed to convey an atmosphere of caring, mutual respect and hard work in the final-year winemaking programme at Elsenburg. Some presentation time was handed over to a trio of young women who run an NGO, Tutors4Tomorrow, supporting maths teaching to senior school learners at Kayamandi High School. The Elsenburg students, who themselves accept help and support, want to also give it to others, and hope to be able to do so for Tutors4Tomorrow.

The essential aim of the presentation, though (if it wasn’t to just effectively show how impressive the whole place is) was to talk about the wine auction that’s being organised to help fund the students’ study tour to Portugal, Bordeaux, Southern and Northern Rhône, and Burgundy later this year. For wine students isolated from the classic areas that remain central to their craft, such a tour is a vital component of their basic education – if only to introduce them to the wonderful and hard-won realities of the wider wine world. I hope the experience is going to be a great deal of fun; I’m sure it’ll be an invaluable one for developing their understanding. They’ll also be offering while they’re there: On 20 November at La Cité du Vin in Bordeaux, the tour group (with Beyers Truter) will give presentations on South African wine (including pinotage, of course).

Much of the local wine industry knows the need for this sort of experience and is willing to help. To their great credit, the Cape Winemakers Guild have donated R100 000, which secured flight tickets. Many others have donated wines towards a fund-raising auction to meet other expenses – with the starry local wines complemented by a pallet of international stuff given by the International Wine Challenge (it’s good to know that the IWC does useful things with its left-over entry samples).

auctionThe auction will be held on the early evening of 26 July at Beyerskloof in Stellenbosch (there’ll also be an auction in Johannesburg, in September; details to be finalised). There’s room for 120 potential buyers. If you have some money for a good cause, in exchange for some attractive wine lots, you could do much worse. (If you have some money and can’t make the auction, I reckon they’ll be only too pleased to accept a donation.) To book a place, or to get a list of the lots, contact Lorraine.

It’d be a nice way of playing a positive role in the future of South African wine. (And any excess income will go to Tutors4Tomorrow.) We don’t know the names of these young men and women now, but will certainly know at least some of them in the decades to come.

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[Category: Tim’s stuff]