Cork and Talk with Dave

Thursday 16 March 2017

Experience: 4/5

Half an hour into the first lecture and I was wondering what I had let myself in for. It was on 21 December 2016 that I applied for the Certificate (3 day) Course. I was still enthusiastic after completing the South African Course but now beginning to doubt.

The introductory course changed the direction of my life. That is no exaggeration. The excitement and passion about wine that it gave me led to formation of the Cape Wine Lovers’ Society. I organise fun wine tasting evenings for people who wish to explore and learn about wines in informal settings. I can see so many opportunities and I can’t wait to learn and share more.

Dave March, our instructor and a Cape Winemaster, was telling us about the tasting exam, how to prepare for it, and how to answer fully. The step-up from the introductory South African Course was daunting. There were 7 minutes only per glass to assess, in turn and singly, each of 6 wines. Marks are given out of a total of 30 and that makes for considerable analysis and description. The classroom was both very quiet and enquiring at the same time. Personally, and I am not alone, the Tasting Exam is the one most feared. It was good though to hear that all does not hinge on correctly identifying the correct grape variety. I know that my tasting analysis is often good but maddeningly I often draw the wrong conclusion.

I warmed to Dave more than some of my fellow students did. Were both English and of retirement age and so I understood his humour and his situation. He was doing his job to prepare us even though it was scary. We then tasted a range of white then red wines and tried to apply the complex and lengthy evaluation. I could tell that I was going to need much practice. Fortunately, I have been used to assessing and scoring during blind tasting for a few months now. Even so, knowing the mnemonics ‘CDC’, ‘CICAD’ and ‘EAT South African Football Clubs’ to remember the criteria for the appearance, nose and palate was not at this stage a lot of help.

It was therefore something of a relief when morning coffee came. It had been a rush through dense commuter traffic to reach the Morgenhof Estate, North of Stellenbosch in time for course registration at 0745. It was a chance too to chat with some of the other students.

The second lecture covered viticulture, which basically is everything that happens outside the cellar. Dave outlined the parts of the vine, major nutrients and water requirements, and stages of ripening. There are 6 concentrated pages of facts about each common South African white and red grape variety in the written notes that we barely covered in the lecture. That is a lot to learn! We then covered pests and diseases, grafting, trellising and pruning, and seasons of the vine. A second round of tutored tasting followed. My head was distinctly fuzzy by the time that lunch came – and not from the tasting …..

Lunch was another welcome break. Morgenhof supplied burgers, chips and salad (fish for vegetarians) that was basic. It was disappointing and nothing special. Service was far too slow for the number of students, over 40 in number. The staffs did not seem to appreciate that we were on a tight deadline to return to the classroom.

Lecture 3 was the final lecture of the day, about the different wine-growing regions in South Africa, and was no less concentrated in information. It started easily enough by addressing the intricacies of climate and soil types. The breakdown of the country into the production areas of geographical units, regions, districts and wards was just as detailed and intense as anything we had covered so far. There’s another 8 pages of concentrated information in the notes to digest and learn. At least the theory exam (2 ½ hours) is not until 5 June. I shall need all of the intervening time to prepare for it.

We finished this first day with more tutored tasting. Day 1 was certainly a steep learning curve. I know I can achieve a decent mark in the exams and shall learn a great deal. I have to apply myself though. I am both excited – and potentially wish to progress later to the Diploma Course and eventually to become a Cape Wine Master – as well as apprehensive.

Afterwards, it was a dash back to Cape Town. I had 15 minutes to turn round at home before leaving to run the Cape Wine Lovers’ Society evening meeting on low and high priced wines …..

Wines tasted: (to follow)

9 thoughts on “Cork and Talk with Dave

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