UCT Wine Society Pips Stellenbosch at Post in Backsberg Vino Varsity
A detailed and motivated call for Pinotage to be South Africa’s international calling card saw UCT regain the title of Backsberg Vino Varsity Champions. The annual competition between the wine societies of UCT and Stellenbosch has become an institution in the Cape winelands since being founded in 2009 by Backsberg CEO Simon Back.
This year’s wine inter-varsity saw a revised format. The blind-tasting section remained, asking the teams having to identify wine styles, grape varieties and certain wine faults.
Students then had to test their skills in developing a brand, as well as tackling the crucial challenge of marketing their new product.
The two teams also had to put their lateral thinking caps on in a section requiring the motivation of a wine that can be the signature of Wine Brand SA. Here the adage of “failing to plan is planning to fail” came through for UCT in their call for Pinotage to become the face of the South African wine industry.
Victorious UCT team-leader Matthew de Haast says: “We put in a lot of training and research to get our facts in a row, and the whole team’s belief in Pinotage as South Africa’s go-to grape with which to take on the world must have made our argument convincing. Our presenters Nicole Uys and Bevan Willoughby were at the top of their game, putting in great performances.”
De Haast’s real pleasure was winning the blind-tasting. “To beat Stellenbosch in this aspect is awesome,” he says. “Their skill at wine-tasting is legendary, obviously made easier by the fact of them being based in the wine capital of South Africa with all the resources at their disposal. Plus, they are just a phone-call away from legendary winemakers for quick advice. For us to win this was the highlight of my day.”
The brand-development section was neck-and- neck, with Stellenbosch edging it with a PET bottled wine made for outdoor activities named “Woodstock Daisy”. UCT’s “One Night Stand” showed promise in the marketing pitch, but fell short in its one-dimensional design.
According to De Haast, the marketing and debating elements brought an exciting dimension to the Backsberg Vino Varsity. “We had to dig deep,” he said, “when facing Stellenbosch you always doubt whether your best is going to be good enough. We are elated to have pulled through.”
Head-judge Siobhan Thompson, who is also CEO for Wines of South Africa (Wosa) said the students impressed at all levels of the competition. “This enthusiasm for wine among the youth is what the South African industry needs,” she says. “The contagious zeal with which they approached this year’s contest and their knowledge is something from which the local industry’s more experienced players can learn. In fact, I have asked UCT if I can use their Pinotage presentation for my endeavours in promoting South African wine.”
Backsberg CEO and Vino Varsity founder Simon Back says the event is growing from strength-to-strength with the standards rising each year. “The new format is extremely relevant, as marketing and sales are today driving the wine industry,” he says. “It also allows more students from each team to partake, and for us wine professionals the insights shown and arguments raised leave a lot of food for thought. This also shows the importance of listening to what the youth has to say about wine, because they are the consumers of tomorrow.”
Along with Thompson, the judges were Ursula van der Westhuizen, Old Mutual’s head of external communications and marketing consultant and wine writer Emile Joubert.