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South Africa’s enviable position as a world class wine industry was and still not achieved on a silver platter.
Critically acclaimed iconic white and red wines with rich history and passion passed down from generations of Dutch, French, German, English, and Portuguese settlers have been religiously preserved and improved through dedication and tedious labour from farmhands to master winemakers.
Kevin Arnold of Waterford Wine Estate, Philip Jonker of Weltevrede Family Wine Estates, Petrus Bosman of Bosman Wine Estate are true examples of passionate, traditional, and world-class winemakers in South Africa.
The official Industry regulator,the South Africa Wine and Spirit Board defines the regulations whereas the laws are enforced by South Africa Wine Industry Information and Systems (SAWIS) making the industry one of the most highly regulated and monitored systems in the ‘New World Countries’.
These regulations demand a lot of studious processes and work from the winemakers, all year round at the same time catering to the high demand of wine tourists from Europe, USA, Canada, Australia and beyond.
The craftsmanship and passion is undeniably the epitome of true hospitality for any wine tourist to South Africa as the winemakers still accommodate and infuse a tourism experience into their profession especially during the peak harvest season between middle February to early April each year.
This is only an experience out of many others of how South Africa’s winemakers and the entire wine growing region of Western Cape, taking a wine tourist through the process of nurturing the vines during the winter, harvesting the grapes, crushing, and pressing them, fermenting, clarification, ageing and then bottling during the summer.
As a member of a media team that embarked on a trip down south from Ghana, organised by Wines of South Africa (WOSA) in partnership with Jon Williams Consult, a communications firm, sponsored by South African Airways, we were taken through the process of making wine from where it all begins before it gets to the dinner table.
The group, made up of print, radio, television and online journalists and bloggers marvelled at the attention to detail paid by the workers who either picked grapes, operate the machines that crushed the grapes, cellarmasters or winemakers and executives who market the products.
Ghana, best known to produce about 1million tonnes of cocoa annually can easily learn from the South Africa experience with wine and transform the cocoa production process into a mega tourism venture that could be generating billions in much needed foreign exchange.
Our arrival in Cape Town with South African Airways flight at Cape Town International Airport, we were met with a charming smile from a gentleman, called Aaron, who was appointed by WOSA as one of our chauffeurs.
The immersion of history of the wine industry began immediately on the coach bus ride with Aaron who delighted us with rich history of South African wines on our half hour drive to the beautiful wine town of Stellenbosch, the university town and heart of South Africa’s winelands.
Inside J.C. Le Roux
Upon arrival at the historic Dutch architecture styled Stellenbosch Hotel, we quickly changed for our premier wine tasting event at the House of J.C Le Reux, the first and leading cellar dedicated entirely to the art of making sparkling wine in South Africa also known on the international market as Method Cap Classique (MCC), the South African version of Champagne.
Upstairs at J.C Le Roux, the stunning open floor bespoke restaurant welcomed us to a palatial lunch and wine tasting in the company of our host team from the office of Wines of South Africa, led by Matome Mbatha, the Market Manager for Africa and Maryna Strachan, Communications Manager.
The cellar tour after lunch educated the team on the passion, craftsmanship and expertise employed in making the finest vintage Methode Cap Classique in the time-honoured French style, and fun loving sparkling wines to suit every palate.
The crescendo of the wine tasting is the surprise pairings offered at every wine estate we visited beginning from J.C. Leroux where chocolates are the best pairings offered with wine tastings.
First dinner at Waterford with Kelvin
Waterford Wine Estate has a special welcome for all visitors with a grand driveway between canopy of trees and through citrus plants with water fountain dancing to the rhythms of the cascading valleys around. Momentarily, you may feel like a special VVIP guest arriving to a destination wedding location in Tuscany, though not farfetched.
The spectacular scenery with cool breeze and pleasant tranquillity was only interrupted by the warm welcome of the master winemaker, Kevin Arnold. Kevin then took us on a tour of the cellar, where we learnt about the intricacies of making wine.
At the end of the tour, we did an extensive tasting of the red and white wines and how each offers a unique flavour and taste that makes one appreciate the essence of wine on your palates and boy we did enjoy every bit. The absence of an in-house restaurant did not dissuade our host Kevin to surprise us with a lavish three course dinner with gluttonous portions of lasagne, garden salads and home-made pasta.
Definitely, we ended our dinner with a delirious taste of Waterford Sauvignon Blanc Elgin 2014 Vintage and Waterford Elgin Pinot Noir 2014.
The journey to Robertson Valley
The next day, we embarked on a two and half hour journey from Stellenbosch to the Robertson Wine Valley. On our way, which by the way was on some of the best roads, we passed through the Huguenot Tunnel, a toll tunnel that extends the N1 national road through the DuToitskloof mountains.
And that breakfast experience at Le Roux &Fourie
After the tunnel, we took a detour and entered Robertson with our first stop at the Le Roux & Fourie Wine Club, for a great breakfast. With the majestic Langeberg Mountains in the background, we experienced the Flag 'n’ Wine World, a specially designed flag labyrinth with more than 220 flags to learn about and pry for nations and to explore world geography in a classroom without walls!
It was after breakfast that we were split into two groups and we respectively went off into different farms for grape harvesting experience.
The Menno Experience
My group (Group 2) included Kafui Dey, Isaac Yankson and Abigail Dela Bedzrah. We had the opportunity to visit the Bushmanspad Wine Estate where we were warmly welcomed by Menno Schaafsma, the owner of the estate and later joined by Arthur Basson, the Winemaker.
(Group 1 was made of Ameyaw Debrah, Kweku Obeng-Adjei, Bill Bedzrah and Emeline Nkosi).
Menno received us and was ready to answer all our questions without any hesitation and that was just a candid pleasantry. He also drove us around his farm in his 25-year old Land Rover while making sure he gave us oral tutorial on winemaking from the farm to the bottle.
It was riveting, beautiful and educational in a single package. Menno, who is Dutch, prefers to hand pick his grapes and so employs about 30 master hand pickers during harvest.
He allowed us to experience the handpicking and we spoke to the workers while he guided us along every route of his farm, and demonstrated his rain water and stream harvesting process into his dams (reservoirs) for dry season use.
After the obligatory lunch, Arthur, the winemaker also took us through the winemaking routine and ended with another delicious wine tasting experience.
In summary, every winery and wine estate we visited, either inside the Robertson Valley, Stellenbosch, and Elgin, had similar experiences from farm visits to cellar to talk about the winemaking process and then tasting. But surprisingly, each winery had their unique stories, whether it is a mass producing winery or an estate winery.
The experience is so immersing that some of the wineries have hotels, inns, restaurants, and lodges attached to serve the demands of wine tourists willing to pay lots of money to have an authentic wine estate experience.
Though the Western Cape of South Africa produces the wine in the country, which is exported to Africa and other parts of the world, it has leveraged extensively on the wine value chain and has developed a tourism experience to support it all and make it an all-inclusive tourism experience.
Instead of just visiting a restaurant to drink wine with the food, the wineries have opened their doors to allow connoisseurs, wine lovers and tourists to also experience the entire process of winemaking and that I assure you is a lifetime lasting memory making Cape Town and it surrounding wine regions, some of the most visited parts of South Africa.
A report by Bloomberg, noted that tourism based on South Africa’s wine industry has the potential to more than double in size in the next nine years as the declining value of the rand makes the country increasingly attractive to visitors.
The market, which is growing at a rate of 7percent per annum, is expected to reach 15billion rand (US$930 million) in 2025 from 6 billion Rand currently.
With almost 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of vineyards, mostly in the Western Cape province, the industry alone now employs about 300,000 people.
The real lessons for Ghana
Ghana is a leading producer of cocoa. But what do we do with our cocoa value chain? The government buys the cocoa at harvest and exports the seeds to Europe and America where these products are processed into chocolate, cocoa powder, and several other cocoa related products which we then import, buy at high valued prices and are proud to offer as gifts to our friends and families.
The real producers of the cocoa in this country are poor farmers who just produce the cocoa and sell them to the government; but that is not the case in South Africa. In South Africa, some of the richest and well to do people in the Western Cape are winemakers and owners of wine estates.
This is because they own the entire value chain in the winemaking system from farming to bottling and marketing. The attendance tourism aspect serve as another value earning venture.
Even if our farmers cannot be enabled to process the cocoa into processed products, what stops us from changing our cocoa production structure to infuse tourism into it? I believe Ghanaians would want to learn, first hand from farmers, how cocoa trees are planted and how the pods are harvested, dried and then exported.
With Cocoa Processing Company and a few private businesses working hard to enhance Ghana’s cocoa locally, the processing value chain can also be transformed to incorporate tourism added values to the process.
To every wine tourist to South Africa the quality of the infrastructure of these wines growing regions is world class standard. A journey of 250 kilometres from Stellenbosch to the Robertson Wine Valley region is facilitated by a first class highway road network devoid of potholes and speed rumps.
But what is the story here? We are constantly crying about the roads in our cocoa growing areas. Trucks carrying bags of cocoa are seen breaking down on our roads daily which affect the movement of goods and services.
Ghana has a lot to learn in developing tourism in general and especially related to our flagship crop: cocoa.
Source: Bernard Yaw Ashiadey/thebftonline.com/Ghana