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Cape Wine Master Winnie Bowman on women winemakers and the state of the SA wine industry

Whatever Cape Wine Master Winnie Bowman does, she does it well.
innie Bowman

Bowman, who started as a physiotherapist, developed an interest in occupational health, completing a Masters in Biomedical Sciences at UCT and ending with a PhD in Didactics at Stellenbosch University.

It's hardly surprising that when the gregarious Bowman discovered a passion for wine, she went further than most wine lovers. She earned an Evaluation of Port from Stellenbosch University department of Viticulture and Oenology in 2007, was named a Cape Wine Master in 2008 and then earned two wine judging certificates in 2009, one of them for Evaluation of Red, White and Fortified Wine from Stellenbosch University, and the other from the Wine Tasting Academy of the Graduate School of Business at UCT.

In 2007 Bowman started as a judge for the oldest wine club in South Africa, the Wine-of-the-Month Club, helping choose some of the country’s best offerings for those looking to expand their wine repertoire.

Ahead of Women’s Day on Sunday, August 9, Bowman talks about how the alcohol ban has seriously damaged an already frail wine industry and how much styles and trends have changed in recent years.

Tell us a bit about yourself and when you fell in love with wine?

I have always loved wine; from the thimble full Muscadel every Sunday at the lunch table through to my university years at Stellenbosch, where we visited wine farms at every opportunity. Then, of course, came international travel, and our holidays have always been linked to wine regions. I was challenged to become a Cape Wine Master and would not give up! It was a rollercoaster of fun, learning and meeting loads of new and interesting friends.

At present most of my time is spent judging in local and international wine and spirit competitions, writing, teaching and long lunches exploring new and interesting wines, as well as tracking the development of old favourites.

Do you believe that women and men judge wine differently and those of different generations?

I would love to be able to say that women are better (only joking) but in my experience this is not the case. Neither for different generations, except experienced judges will have seen the development of the wine industry and wines over the years and have a very large and long memory bank in both styles and quality.

What is your wish for women?

That there should be absolutely no discrimination anywhere; be it gender, religion, politics, age or race.

Do women winemakers bring a different touch to winemaking than men?

I want all winemakers to make wine to the best of their ability with the grapes at hand. I have never believed that any woman winemaker should be judged individually or separately to any male winemaker, especially not in a competition situation. Equal playing field always, I say!

Why would you encourage people to become part of Wine -of-the-Month Club and which pack should they start with?

Firstly, I love opening a package! Whether I know what is inside or not! It is like a present every time. So imagine this delight every two months? The panel hardly ever fails to pick the best wines on offer every tasting day and takes the hard work (and expense) of finding the best wines for the individual packs. It is also exciting to find new and unknown wines that one would not have been aware of.

I would start with the Wine-of-the-Month Club pack because these are good, solid wines that punch way above their weight in flavour, enjoyment and often in value. What is also very good is that the club member can select within a club category what their personal preferences are, e.g. only red, only white, only dry - whatever takes their fancy and drinking enjoyment and lifestyle.

The magazine, Connoisseur, that is included in the pack, features all the wines from the different packs, as well as some of the editor’s personal picks, so club members can order individual wines featured in the other packs as well.

What do you think are the biggest benefits of joining this wine club?

Value, convenience (both in delivery and re-ordering), excitement for what will be in the next pack and exploring the new wines.

What are you most proud of?

I am proud of our wine industry for constantly evolving, not only on the technology front, but mostly on the people front. More people have opportunities to excel in the industry in all areas, such as hospitality, restaurants, wine tasting rooms - tourism has brought a whole new world to the employment possibilities.

What are some wine trends for 2020?

More experimentations, more moves towards natural and original, traditional winemaking methods, minimal interference.

What is your favourite food and wine pairing?

It has to be goatmilk crostini with a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc!

How has Covid-19 affected the South African wine industry?

Prohibition of wine sales and exports have seriously damaged the already frail industry and it still too early to appreciate or predict the full effect. But the expectation is that many won’t make it through this period financially. I see the rest of the year as a time to think out the box to get the products and services in the minds of the consumer. There is a long, uphill road ahead, especially where international exports are concerned.

What evolution have you seen in the SA wine consumer in the past decade?

More naturally made wines, lower alcohol wines and quality wine in a can. I also love all the new varieties being used in this age of climate change, and South African winemakers and producers have embraced this and producing more choice for the consumer. We are going to have our first SA Assyrtiko in the bottle. I can’t wait.

Has the wine drinker demographic changed over the years?

Yes, with younger people being exposed to the pleasures of wine, and especially being aware of drinking responsibly.

What are people ordering and drinking different to 30, 20 and 10 years ago?

People are much more confident to experiment with different varieties, especially blends and, in particular, white blends. White blends used to be a hard-sell, but the quality is so good and the offerings so varied, that consumers seek out these wines. I think consumers are also more adventurous with food pairings – no more white with fish, red with meat!

About the author

Janine Greenleaf Walker has worked as a reporter, film and TV critic, columnist and editor and has built up an enormous network of contacts. She reported on the evolving nature of South African performing arts, first as a specialist arts writer at The Star newspaper in Johannesburg and later as food and wine editor, managing editor and finally arts editor of The Star Tonight.

Janine still writes about food and wine for various publications but for the past decade has specialised in PR and marketing.
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