A quiet transformation revolution

The current students, from left, are Banele Vakele, Logan Jooste,Clayton Christiaans, Sydney Mello,Rose Kruger,Kiara Scott,Maryna Huysamen, and Mahalia Kotjane

Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow. Thus opines American writer and education activist Tony D’Angelo, and it is with this quote that Cape Winemakers Guild Development Trust chairman Louis Strydom encapsulates what the trust has come to symbolise in the South African wine industry.

The trust’s three year protege programme, which kicked off in 2006 with its first graduates, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, with a crop of students who come from across the country, and who are grasping the unique opportunity offered by the protege programme: mentoring by, and access to some of the finest winemaking talent in the country.

In 2015, the protege programme was expanded in partnership with producer organisation VinPro, to include students of viticulture.

The trust’s endeavours are largely funded by the guild members’ various charity auctions – augmented by a crop of consistent corporate, private and societal sponsors.

In a society where the transformation drum is beaten as a weapon by some, and paid lip service to by others, the trust is actually making a real difference.

Aside from admitting two or three graduates (University of Stellenbosch or Eisenberg Agricultural College) each year into the programme, the trust also reaches out to 1 500 cellar and vineyard workers across the winelands, in partnership with Wine Training SA, with its SKOP Level one, two and three programme, resulting in an NQF Level 3 qualification.

Aside from the inherent benefits of up-skilling, this programme provides a platform for people to pursue further education, through the Trust’s bursary initiative, which means somebody who starts working in the vineyard or cellar after leaving school, has the opportunity to become a full-fledged winemaker with a tertiary education qualification over time.

But in the context of transformation, has the programme had the desired effect? Surely the litmus test is the extent to which graduates of the Protege Programme have found employment in the industry? To date 20 young people, with one exception from previously disadvantaged backgrounds have been admitted to the programme since 2006. Of these, 12 are pursuing careers in the industry at wineries ranging in size from larger corporate to smaller boutique.

It is while listening to Louis Strydom introducing the current proteges that the overwhelmingly pale maleness of the Cape Winemakers Guild becomes evident – of the 47 current members, all are white, and only two are female.

Fortunately, the current crop of proteges, variously in their first, second or third year, with a 50/50 gender split, addresses this vexing characteristic of the South African wine industry: its overwhelming maleness. Whether or not that is a deliberate focus of the rigorous selection process which aspirant proteges undergo is academic, but the outcome is admirable.

The obvious question must be: by when will a graduate of the Protege Programme be theoretically eligible for admission to the Guild. Well, admission criteria for the Guild are stiff: it is by invitation only, and you must have been making internationally relevant wine for at least five years as a fully fledged winemaker. This means, according to Louis Strydom’s reckoning, that a winemaker would typically be at least 35 years old by that stage, which equates to between 14 and 15 years after completion of tertiary studies.

This suggests that the 2006 and 2007 proteges – Howard Booysen and Praisy Dlamini – could become eligible for admission some time after 2021. As much as there are no guarantees that any of the programme’s proteges will be admitted to the Guild, Louis Strydom does acknowledge that when that does happen, this quiet transformation revolution in the wine industry will have come full circle.

The Cape Winemakers Guild annual auction takes place at the Spier Conference Centre on October 1, and it includes a silent auction which features wines made by the proteges in their second year. If you’ve a yen for helping to fund this transformation initiative in the wine industry, you might consider bidding on some of those wines. Entrance to the auction is free, so what are you waiting for?