Empowering young women for a future in the grape and wine industry

The learners and students had the privilege of visiting some of the most renowned and picturesque wine farms in the region,

Stellenbosch University’s Viticulture and Oenology Winter School Programme 2023 packed with immersive learning and inspiration have left a lasting impression on 22 female Grade 11 learners from various provinces.

The 3-day‑long programme organised by the Faculty of AgriSciences and its Department of Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch University (SU), was presented in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD), the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG), and Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute.

This transformative journey took the young women to wine farms in the Cape Winelands region, offering a once‑in-a-lifetime experience and a deeper understanding of the captivating world of grape and wine sciences.

Selected participants came from the Nkomazi High School, Ermelo Combined School, Guduza Secondary School, Warburton Combined School, Wem Combined School in Mpumalanga; the Tsoseletso Secondary School in the Free State; and the SciMathUS programme at SU. The learners and students were escorted to various wine farms, where they had the opportunity to engage with industry experts and gain practical insights into the art of winemaking.

For three days, the learners and students had the privilege of visiting some of the most renowned and picturesque wine farms in the region, including Vredenheim, Lievland, Babylonstoren, The House of JC Le Roux, and Alto Wine Estate. From the lush vineyards to the state-of-the-art cellars, participants witnessed the artistry and precision that goes into crafting exceptional wines. Industry experts acted as guides and generously shared their journey, knowledge and expertise, which further enhanced the young women’s experience.

Kgalalelo Modiakgotla, one of the enthusiastic students from SciMathUS, expressed her excitement about the programme. “As a SciMathUS student, I really enjoyed this programme. The programme was not only fun, but also educational. I have learnt so much about growing grapes in vineyards and the process of winemaking, which I found very interesting.”

Michelle Makwela, Wem Combined School Grade 11 leaner said, “The programme came as a pleasant surprise to me since I had never heard of viticulture and oenology before. However, spending time learning in the vineyards and wine cellars was eye opening. I appreciate the opportunity; it was indeed a privilege to be part of the winter school programme.”

The hands-on approach fostered a deep understanding of the wine industry, introducing the young women to the scientific and artistic aspects of winemaking. The interactive sessions sparked their curiosity and provided valuable insights into a career in the grape and wine industries.

“We firmly believe in empowering the next generation of wine enthusiasts and professionals,” Prof Maret du Toit, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of AgriSciences and lecturer in Oenology at SU, said. “The aim of this programme was to ignite their passion for the grape and wine sciences and allow them to see the diverse career opportunities in studying towards this degree. We were delighted to witness their enthusiasm and appreciation for the opportunity. Exposing them to the grape and wine sciences as a career unknown to them, made the week rewarding and fulfilling for me,” she continued.

The success of the programme would not have been possible without the generous support of the participating wine farms. The winemakers’ willingness to open their doors to the learners and share their expertise played a pivotal role in creating a truly enriching experience.

“DALRRD is proud to be part of this programme, fostering a spirit of collaboration between educational institutions and industry professionals. Through events like these, the Department aims to shape the future of young people and expose them to the other side of agriculture that most of them do not know about. The wine industry is one of the Department’s identified prioritised areas and there is a demand for young women to bridge the gap in the wine industry,” Ms Votelwa Ndana from DALRRD said.

The annual Viticulture and Oenology Winter School Programme presented since 2019 again did not disappoint in 2023. The young participants had a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of grape and winemaking, instilling in them a love of the business and empowering them to pursue future endeavours. The programme will continue to mould the minds of aspiring grape and wine specialist and experts for years to come with the ongoing support of industry professionals and the dedication of partners.

As most of the learners were not 18 years of age, no alcohol was consumed during the programme.