Ikeys takes the Vino Varsity crown

The winning team and the judges at the annual Backsberg Vino Varsity Challenge. Pictured back from left, are, Rebecca Simbi; Cathy Marston, judge; Busisiwe Nxumalo, UCT Wine Society chairperson; Alex Milner, judge; Luke Meiklejohn, UCT Wine Society vice-chairperson; Phenyo Makgabo; John Clark; Jonathan Nathan and Professor Nick Vink, judge. Front, from left are Simon Back, Backsberg CEO and Matthew Barry. PICTURE: NORMAN MCFARLANE

In a hard-fought contest on Friday afternoon at Backsberg Wine Estate, the University of Cape Town Wine Society took top honours in the annual Backsberg Vino Varsity Challenge, against the Stellenbosch University Wine Society.

The competition, now in its tenth year, pits teams against each other in a three-part battle: a quiz about the South African wine industry, a complex blind tasting of a number of flights of wine, each underpinned by a question designed to test the contestants’ wine knowledge and insight, and a debate on a topic of significance to the South African wine industry.

This year’s debate topic posed the question: “South Africa has been experiencing persistent drought conditions for the past three years. This has had an immense impact on the agricultural industry, and in particular, the state of the South African wine industry. Discuss the impact of the drought and whether you believe this has had a positive or negative impact on the wine industry. In your argument consider economic factors, the structure of the wine industry, wine styles, innovation, and agricultural practices”.

The debate was conducted in academic format, with the assessment by the panel of judges, wine educator Cathy Marston, winemaker Alex Milner, Stellenbosch University professor of agricultural economics and National Planning Commissioner, Nick Vinck and Bolander’s Norman McFarlane rendering commentary on organisation, structure and coherency of the presentations; content knowledge; evidence of in-depth research; development of topic; level of audience engagement; delivery and professionalism of the presentations.

Both teams presented well structured and well thought out propositions, developed their arguments convincingly, and backed them up with detailed research. They also had to face some tough and searching questions from the judges.

A three-person team from each of the competitors tackled each round of the competition, and the contest moved at a lively pace, to enthusiastic support from the audience.

It was a close run thing, but the Ikeys beat the Maties into second place in all three rounds.

Once the final scores had been tallied and reviewed and the winner announced, the Ikeys erupted in jubilation – this is only the fourth time in ten years that the Ikeys have won.

Aside from getting the floating trophy and a case of Backsberg, the Ikeys team got to enjoy a bottle of 1998 Backsberg Shiraz, which all of them pronounced to be superb.

Speaking after handing over the trophy, Backsberg CEO Simon Back, reflected on how the competition has developed over the last 10 years: “Ten years ago on a whim, I thought it would be fun to organise an inter-varsity wine competition. The first competition involved the wine societies from Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town, and so the Backsberg Vino Varsity Challenge was born.

“Over the years Rhodes, Wits (University of the Witwatersrand) and Tuks (University of Pretoria) have also been involved. The event has grown in stature and is now firmly placed on the calendar for university wine societies.

“I am excited to play a role in introducing students to the world of wine, and generating interest and passion for the wine industry at large.”