Winemakers – their role today

Over the past week or so, I’ve been reminded frequently of the winemaker’s role.

The following might seem a little tangential but should show its relevance further on. It refers to a post on the Women in Wine Exchange group on Facebook, where Nomonde Kubheka requests a cellar to host for a day the Pinotage Youth Development Academy’s Wine Tourism class on a learning/working winery tour. ‘The end goal is that they will become well-rounded ambassadors to the wine tourism industry.’

Then, the latest newsletter from The Wine Tasters’ Guild of South Africa, of which I’m an honorary member, advises their next tasting will be at Voor Paardeberg winery, Vondeling. After a few words about Matthew Copeland and his awards, the Secretary writes; ‘Crossed fingers should ensure that Matt does the presentation (it’s also harvest time…).’

One of the most relevant reminders was the Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir Celebration, held over the last weekend of January (27th and 28th this year) as it has been since its inception in 2014. I do remember a few of us noting that the timing was nerve-wrackingly close to harvest and there was talk of moving it. That didn’t happen but the following year delivered an early harvest; several winemakers had to juggle with picking grapes, being in the cellar and attending to present their wines. A far from ideal situation.

I’ve also been reading on Twitter how some of the smaller-scale winemakers have travelled abroad recently to market their wines, due to their agents having trade shows or similar.

Then there are pressures at home from the many tourists, either in a tour group or individually; a visit to a wine farm is a must and everyone wants to meet and speak to the winemaker. The international media also like to travel here in summer and I don’t blame them!

Andrea Mullineux at Wine Enthusiast Awards where she received Winemaker of the Year Award. The glamorous side of winemaking.
Andrea Mullineux at Wine Enthusiast Awards where she received Winemaker of the Year Award. The glamorous side of winemaking.

In the ‘old days’ the winemaker’s role was just that, winemaker. He (few female winemakers in those times) stood at the cellar door to receive the grapes, probably the first time he’d have seen them, his main job in the cellar until the wine was bottled.
Today, winemakers are much more involved in the vineyards, whether their own or leased, throughout the year. With the cult of the winemaker still a strong drawcard, they have to travel the world to meet their customers, sell their wines, attend and/or speak at seminars and do a certain amount of admin (Andrea Mullineux has just posted a screen shot of her email situation; inbox 6360, drafts 43, due no doubt to her being awarded Winemaker of the Year by the American Wine Enthusiast); I’m sure there are other obligations. The world is such a vast market that it’s often not enough to have a dedicated sales or marketing person.

Vergelegen's winemaker, Andre van Rensburg, working in the cellar.
Vergelegen’s winemaker, Andre van Rensburg, working in the cellar.

Being a winemaker and all that this entails today is just one side of the coin; many are married with families. How to squeeze in a family life too, when the job is hardly 9 to 5 and can extend to seven days a week?

Returning to Nomonde’s post on Facebook, we do need more people thoroughly versed in the journey of grapes from vine to bottle and the winery at which they work, who can take the load off the winemaker, especially at harvest time. The importance of such a person in a position which can enhance a winery’s image as well should not be under-estimated.


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