Learning by doing -- that's the goal of a new internship program for aspiring winemakers. Ten South Africans traveled to Virginia and California to learn the art and science of wine from a new program sponsored in part by the U.S. Government and the newly organized U.S.-South Africa Wine Foundation. With the skills they learn in the U.S., the South Africans hope to decant improved wines one day soon as the country looks to expand its share of the expanding global wine market.
Wine starts with grapes, some yeast, and maybe a little sugar.
Joseph is an apprentice wine-maker from France. He's learning the international craft of winemaking, along with Welcome Williams, a fellow intern from South Africa.
"In America, I learn a different way of processing wine, because I am working with French guys -- they do things in a different way than in South Africa and that different way of making wine is also a good way,” said Welcome. “So I never saw this sort of process, but it works!"
Wine has been made in South Africa for more than 300 years. But it has only been since the end of apartheid in 1994 that South African wines have become a player on the global wine market. South Africa has increased its wine exports to the United States to nearly 1 million casks a year, and is looking to sell more.
The U.S-South Africa Wine Foundation, a newly organized group, along with support from the U.S. government, is working to help South Africa improve its product through a 10-week internship program.
First Colony, outside Charlottesville Virginia, hosted Welcome Williams. The winery's General Manager, Kerry Hannon, says, it’s an opportunity to share knowledge with those who might otherwise not have the chance.
"The wine business is such an international community to begin with,” she told us. “So I think the wine business can be a little bit more progressive in thinking on a global scale. With the South African program in particular, we're interested to be able to be really part of something to evoke a social change in another country, which is just amazing."
In the Western Cape of South Africa, where intern Welcome Williams started his career as a vintner, the conditions to grow grapes and make wines are very different than in Virginia.
"You can see from the soil also, the soil is a clay soil, so you have to do a lot of things here to make it a better wine for them -- a better grape for them. So there's a lot of things they have to do to make a better fruit," said Welcome.
After 10 weeks of tasting, testing and learning, the South Africans graduated.
Pat Kluge, an owner of a nearby vineyard, says the internships were not just about wine. "They have to sort of measure their own personal experience to what they have to find here, i.e. [that is] good weather, as opposed to four seasons. And some of them worked in offices and now they are working in the vineyard and in the winery. So it was interesting to observe their own emotional and physical and intellectual melding of experiences."
These newly minted winemakers hope to convince consumers that Virginia wines are good, but South African wines might be even better.