To remain competitive, renowned wine regions must not only produce quality wines but tell engaging stories about themselves.
While the quality track record of Stellenbosch is undeniable, the wine route is now going beyond this by embarking on an educational programme to give sommeliers a common language to describe Stellenbosch’s terroir, so that they can communicate the district’s unique wine story and inspire conversations.
“There are so many wine brands,” says Thomas Webb of Thelema. “We need to do everything we can to promote our wines. And our terroir is the most obvious one. It’s important to look at the wards of Stellenbosch and promote them. The more we look at the smaller level, the more we push up the whole region and country. Now is definitely the time for specialisation.”
In order to create Stellenbosch wine and terroir experts, the Stellenbosch Wine Routes Sommelier Bootcamp will be launched in September this year. Aimed at sommeliers, hospitality professionals and wine media across the country, this bootcamp will be a five-day intensive course featuring both online and practical immersion in Stellenbosch.
It will cover aspects such as viticulture, tutored technical tastings, and site visits with producers and experts. The delegates will have to complete a practical assessment to be awarded their Stellenbosch ambassador’s pin.
“A sommelier has the role of being a guide and gives consumers insights into the South African wine industry,” says Spencer Fondaumiere, chair of the South African Sommeliers Association (Sasa). “It’s our job to tell people the story and create a value proposition for someone for something [like Stellenbosch wine]. Marketing terroir will increase price points and value.”
The Stellenbosch Wine Routes Sommelier Bootcamp will be based on the educational Stellenbosch terroir toolkit released earlier this year, addressing the need for knowledge on regional typicity. It is aimed to equip sommeliers, buyers and retailers with easily accessible facts to create memorable experiences of Stellenbosch and its wines, covering topics such as the history of Stellenbosch, terroir on a microclimate level and its influence on specific expressions of Stellenbosch grown varietals.
The booklet came at a time when many were lamenting the lack of information available on sub-regional expressions, such as Fondaumiere: “Quite frankly that information isn’t out there. There’s no one beating the drum for the different wards in Stellenbosch and saying this is what we’re good at and this is what to expect. If you’re trying to gain information to give information from an educator’s perspective, there’s not much, other than lived experiences which may or may not be correct.”
Erica Taylor, head of operations at Sasa, explains how the championing of regional and sub-regional typicity had previously been left to the means of individual producers. The issue with this, as Fondaumiere points out, is that regional stories are then pushed by brands. This means that whichever brand has the most money to market its story and get good wine listings dictates the story of a region.
The bootcamp aims to create a single, relatable story on the region’s typicity. “Stellenbosch is a recognised quality brand in key markets, but it is much more exciting to learn about the region in an immersive experience,” says Elmarie Rabe of Stellenbosch Wine Routes. “That way delegates can experience the beauty and generosity of Stellenbosch while gaining a deeper understanding of its people, terroir and our wine culture. We are proud to represent our vibrant and innovative region by creating these opportunities to increase awareness of the region, its producers, and to open up new markets.”
If you are a wine, hospitality or media professional interested in becoming a Stellenbosch wine and terroir expert, please apply here by 2 September to attend the inaugural Stellenbosch Wine Routes Sommelier Bootcamp 2022.
The first Bootcamp Cohort will take place online on 10 September, and from 14-17 September in Stellenbosch.
The second Bootcamp Cohort will take place on 19 November online and from 23-26 November in Stellenbosch. The application deadline is 7 November.