I spent three months in the Western Cape of South Africa working a harvest and immersing myself into an African wine story. The goal was to narrate my own wine adventure. The timing was perfect, I escaped from my corporate American narrative just in time for harvest season in the Southern Hemisphere. This was definitely one of life’s bigger decisions for me. My rationale, I could always return to my ordinary story however the opportunity and fearlessness to live my dream as an adventure story may not return. My dream was to learn, to absorb and also to give back in a wine life. To help manifest this dream I wrote down three soul feeding objectives: work a harvest, volunteer and study wine.
Out of all the countries in the Southern Hemisphere South Africa was my number one choice for this adventure of a lifetime. I had previously visited the popular wine region Stellenbosch and was familiar with South African Culture and the wine community. South Africa is a beautiful place where people unite through past experiences. It’s rich in culture and budding traditions, especially in the wine industry. To be transparent, I especially love it because it’s the only place in the world where diversity is prominent in all aspects of the wine world. Workers in the vineyard, the cellar, the tasting room and sommeliers at world class restaurants, people are exceling in all shades which offered a perfect framework for my African wine story.
Now let’s go, take a virtual trip with me and live a South African wine story.
Part 1 of 3 - Harvest & Volunteering
I landed in Cape Town in March full of excitement and ready for whatever wine adventures were soon to come. A couple days later I eagerly reported for work at DeToren Wine Farm. I worked three weeks at DeToren, each day the team was surprised to see me back. Harvest is no walk in the park. Although the days were long and tiring, working harvest was a magical experience. I loved every moment! From picking and sorting grapes, to using every muscle in my body to break through the hardened yeast caps during punch downs, the repetitive pump overs to mix wine and move fermenting juice from one tank to another, and even the spotless cleaning required after every process, the narrative to my carefully crafted wine adventure was unfolding into a soul feeding experience. Every day seem to be filled with good people and better wine. One of my most memorable experiences at DeToren was working the sorting table where we hand selected berry by berry grapes for Book XVII wine. There I stood with migrate workers from Zimbabwe when Tim Atkin walks up, I greeted him with a friendly California hello. After he recognizes my accent and duly noted “positive American vibes” I did my best to inspire one who I thought was a tourist visiting the wine farm. I tell him that working harvest is the best way to learn about wine. (I am thinking to myself quit your job and come join me in the cellar.) I feel proud of myself for trying to recruit another member to my wine tribe. After he walks away, the intern ask if I knew who I was talking to. “Hum, well, yes he said his name was Tim Atkin” She replied “the world famous, Master of Wine, Tim Atkin.... one mention of your name by Tim and you become famous in the wine industry”. Well alright then Tim! For the rest of the day I could not get Beyoncé’s song out of my head...”say my name... say my name”.
One time the assistant wine maker at DeToren asked if I could help stomp grapes for the exclusive Black Lion Label. My heart jumped with excitement. He lower me by fork lift into an over-sized stainless steel crate full of freshly picked Shiraz grapes. I marched in the crate with my bare toes pressing and gently breaking the grape skins. I could feel the soul of wine wiggle between my toes. My own real life, “I love Lucy “moment. I could hardly believe the moment I was living… bare feet in fresh grape juice in the southernmost part of the African continent, blissful. (Not to worry part of the process is to sterilize your feet before the big stomp.)
On my days off from DeToren I volunteered at a school called PYDA, Pinotage Youth Development Association. It is a program that trains Black South Africans to work in the wine industry. The students are between the ages of 18 and 24 in this program they earn a well-rounded education in the wine industry that includes everything from learning about vineyard techniques, to working in a tasting room and even wine tourism. Since my first visit to South Africa I have made it a point to visit with the students. I share wines from America and knowledge about wine and entrepreneurship. This visit I taught an American wine class showcasing wines from all over America, New York to California and everything in between. I usually take an entire case to share with the students, it’s usually their first and in some cases the only time they may have an opportunity to taste a high end California Cab.
Before my first day of class the program director told me the program had grown. Great I thought until I realized that also meant I would have 50 students in my class. Hosting a wine tasting for 50 adults does not scare me, however for 50 youths between the ages of 18-24 made me nervous as heck. The class and tasting went well. So well that by the end of it the students were excited about American wines. We finished the day posing for selfies and exchanged social media information.
I was happy that I was able to share American culture through wine education. I even used hip hop to explain that the Fingers Lake region is in New York, on the East Coast and Napa on the West Coast, in California. Think Biggie from the East and Tupac from West.... oh now they understood the geography of the United States. Part of my volunteer time with the students included arranging a day to work in the Vineyards harvesting grapes. I reached out to my wine farm contacts and secured a farm for us to harvest grapes for a day. Vivian the owner at Seven Sisters helped organize and offered her neighboring tasting room for a Braai. I collected donations from my friends in America to buy food and we had one of the best Bria’s of my life. Oh a Braai is a South African BarBQ. Two of the students cooked on the grill while another group taught me how to dance to South African hip hop. That day I learned how to do the gara~gara and pretty much confirmed I am challenged with rhythm.
Tuanni Price, the owner of Zuri Wine Tasting. A wine Enthusiast and adventurer, loves everything about the wine experience